Charlie Schwedler doesn’t care if you’re a “5-year-old kindergartener” or a “90-year-old person”; he wants to make sure everyone feels loved, taken care of, and communicated with.
Schwedler, a Bay City native, earned his bachelor's degree in education from Michigan State University and his master's degree in secondary administration from Central Michigan University. He has spent 33 years in education, working as a high school teacher, a high school principal, and most recently, serving as superintendent of Bullock Creek Schools for five years before retiring. Schwedler became the executive director of Senior Services in 2017. Charlie Schwedler has served as the executive director of Midland County Senior Services since 2017.
Schwedler says that he sees “no difference” between the folks he serves now and the students he served then.
“Someone once asked me, ‘How do you like working with old people?’ and I tell them, ‘I have no idea, ‘cause I never see any old people, I just see people,’” says Schwedler.
Many of the volunteers at Senior Services are over 60 years of age and are nearing the vulnerable age themselves, Schwedler says.
“We have over 500 volunteers that volunteer for Senior Services,” says Schwedler. “To volunteer, they can go to our website or call us. We [always] need volunteers.”
Q: How has COVID-19 affected the services offered by Senior Services and what has your organization done to adapt to the situation?
A: I am extremely proud of what we've done in terms of our adaptation. It's almost unrecognizable what we do now from what we did before. We've had to close down pretty much every in-person thing that we do. And so we've had to convert, and be nimble and be flexible. For instance, food — we still do Meals on Wheels. We had taken a pause early on but we still do them five days a week, and we've taken a whole lot of safety precautions. It's an extremely contactless situation. What's really great about it is we're still getting to check on folks that need Meals on Wheels. ... We may not be going [in] to the house and talking to them and those kinds of things, but we still see them; we're still able to check on [them]. Volunteers fuel the Meals on Wheels delivery program.
We've had to close our dining halls down. But what we do out of our three centers that we own [in] Midland, Sanford, and Coleman [are] curbside daily meals. People can come, they drive up — again, contactless — we open their back door, we set [the food] inside, we're able to talk to them, check on them, all those kinds of things. We've done, really, the best we can do. It's not the same; they don't get to come in, they don't get as much socialization as we'd like, but we're able to do that. This was one of many educational programs held at the Trailside Senior Center in Midland before COVID-19.
We’ve [also] switched a lot of our classes, whether they be exercise, or ‘Tuesdays with Ted,’ or other things, we've switched those to virtual. We do those online through Zoom; we use Zoom a lot. Our care coordinators — the people that connect with people — have to do that virtually, so we've converted. We've got laptops where people are able to work from home. We've really transformed our entire organization.
Q: How is your organization dealing with the lack of personal interaction that seniors are likely having?
A: Well, first of all, curbside helps with that. Meals on Wheels helps with that. So, [the volunteers and seniors are] seeing each other; they're eye-to-eye. They may be masked, but they see each other; they're able to talk. That helps a little bit, doesn't help everybody [though].
We also do a lot of phone calls. We call all the people that we have numbers for. Our care coordinators do the calling, so it's a lot of phone contact. Our friendly visitors, also, can go on a porch and they can visit. They can talk to people. It's not the same — we know it's not the same — and that's why we've been working really hard with the Midland County Health Department. So anytime they want to do a vaccine clinic at our garage here, we open up. Come on over, because the more people we can get vaccinated, the more quickly we're going to be able to open up [the community].
Q: As of January 22, you’ve held two COVID-19 vaccination clinics. What’s next?
A: The health department vaccinated 300 people here (on Jan. 6), then we did 100 [more] this Wednesday (Jan. 20). We'll get the second vaccination for those folks. The first one was [from] Pfizer, so [that's] three weeks out. The second one was Moderna, so that's four weeks out. So we have those scheduled already and whenever the health department gets doses, and they can do it, they call me and we open up. For instance, last Friday we got a call and we had the clinic on Wednesday. If [Dr. Bodnar] calls me again today to say ‘we have X number of vaccines,’ we open up.
A drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held at Senior Services and was administered by the Midland County Health Department.
Q: What’s your biggest concern for seniors going forward?
A: Well, it's the isolation — it's getting them reengaged in life. I mean, we know [that] as we get older ... it's easier to just sit in front of your TV or whatever and not get up and move, [and] that's just what you'll do. And so, really, what we want to be able to do is create situations as we move forward, where we can get people out of their home. We can get them active, get them mentally engaged, [and] feed them with a healthy meal. It's battling isolation.
We're doing a lot with Mid-Michigan Health as well with a project called 'Bridge to Belonging.' That's a situation [where] we work on loneliness with [seniors] and they can refer people to us. They're working on loneliness; they understand that as well. A lot of referrals that we're getting are through there. We [also] work with the veterans. We work with all sorts of different people through the community trying to reach people because we know this is an issue. Isolation [for seniors] is an issue under good and normal times — it's just been exacerbated by the pandemic.