Experiences in life often prepare one for the journey ahead, and for Donna Sprow, she can attest this very thing has proven true in her own life. The beginning of February, Donna took over as the Executive Director of the Williams County Department of Aging which services all the communities in Williams County.
Donna, a nurse by profession, says, “I honestly know that every job I have had was leading to this. This is where I belong.”
Donna’s love and passion for working with people naturally flows from her helping profession of nursing. In the nurse role, she has worked in an intensive care setting, doctor’s office, and nursing home. In 2007, she became the Director of Nurses at Hillside Country Living where she remained for about 5 years and enjoyed working with the residents. She transitioned to home health and accepted a position as the Home Health Geriatric Managed Care Nurse with the Williams County Health Department. While in that role, she found herself working closely alongside Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on caregivers and took on the role of facilitator for an Alzheimer’s Association support group meeting in Bryan the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, a role she continues in.
Donna says, “I’ve worked with different ages throughout my career, but my focus has turned to generations before me. The public health sector really opened my eyes to the realization that I really enjoy the people.”
Barb Lingvai, the previous Executive Director, retired from the position February 1st. Donna had the opportunity to train with Barb for three days before being on her own. Donna speaks very highly of Barb. “She put together a very good team. I love when I interview the staff. The first thing everyone tells me is that they love their job. They have a heart for what we do and the people we serve. ”
The job responsibilities of the Executive Director for the Department of Aging are many. Donna spends her days overseeing the daily operations and functions of the seven senior centers that service the seniors of Williams County. Senior centers are located in Bryan, Montpelier, Edon, Edgerton, Stryker, Pioneer, and West Unity. The centers in Bryan, West Unity, and Montpelier are open Monday through Friday while the other centers operate Monday through Thursday. The centers offer meals, home delivered meals, activities, transportation services, support services, and information and referral assistance.
Donna acknowledges that people are working and living longer and that the population is changing and henceforth, the needs of the senior population are changing as well.
Donna attests, “While activities like bingo and cards are good, there are other things we can do as well. I want to keep what we have but also add onto to it. The nurse in me wants to bring out more education and support groups such as a men’s coffee group for male caregivers .” Donna understands firsthand the progression of dementia and how it affects caregivers. Donna has dealt with caregiving issues both professionally and personally as a caregiver for her mother-in-law. “What you know doesn’t prepare you for what you deal with day to day. As a caregiver, routines change and sometimes, you are just too tired to come up with new ideas.” She feels that by introducing a support group for male caregivers, they will feel more comfortable in the presence of other men who over a cup of coffee can share new ideas in a safe place.
Donna is interested in building onto the vast array of activities already offered at the various centers. One of the first things she did when she started in her new role was to visit each center and talk with both staff and seniors. During these initial conversations with seniors, they offered ideas and suggestions for things they would like to see. One suggestion was more exercise programs. Other ideas are providing more of the music they enjoy which brings back fond memories. Also, outings such as the one taken to Lake Erie last year provide opportunities for seniors to socialize with others and travel safely in a group.
Donna envisions the Senior Centers as a place for seniors to come to meet up with friends and relax for a while. One thing she has learned through her interactions with people in her nursing career is that there are a lot of lonely people in the world. “I would love to stop loneliness.” She believes this can actually achieve multiple goals. For instance, seniors at the center can make cards to share with residents of local nursing homes and reach out to others.
“Loneliness leads to health issues. Seniors appreciate togetherness. We weren’t created to be alone,” reminds Donna.
Donna is also interested in parallel programming, possibly offering multiple activities simultaneously. Whatever activities are offered, she feels they need to have a purpose. “Seniors aren’t content with just crafts. They need a purpose. I want to help people to find and use their purpose.”
Donna also acknowledges the importance of the volunteer support to the success of the Senior Center. She says presently, the centers do have a lot of active volunteers but they are always open to new volunteers.
For Donna, she feels as though she is exactly where she is meant to be. Her passion for seniors and the Department of Aging is evident. “I don’t want to spend all my time behind the desk. I enjoy spending time with the seniors.” With Donna’s experience, passion, and vision, the future of the Williams County Department of Aging will continue to flourish. “I love it so far. I really believe that God has led me here. This is where I belong.”