Area Agency on Aging: Positively Impacting Seniors During COVID

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By Katrina Wilson

Sponsored by Prince William County Area Agency on Aging

The Prince William County Area Agency on Aging is available to help the county’s senior citizens or adults with disabilities learn about the Community Based Services Division and Support Services Division.

Senior Centers

Edward Harrison, Community Based Services Manager, said the two senior centers in the county fall under community-based services. The senior centers, one in Manassas and the other in Woodbridge, are locations for daily activities for older adults. There are congregate meals on site and home delivery meals as well. (Congregate meals are served in community settings. They offer an opportunity to meet friends and engage in social activities while having a nutritious meal.)

The two centers have been closed since March 2020.

“We primarily service Prince William County residents ages 55 and older,” Harrison said. “The two centers act almost as a community center because people come for the meal, the socialization and the different programs.”

He said the programs include mental, physical or cognitive health for the seniors.

To become a member of one of the senior centers, people can contact Communication Referral Information and Assistance (CRIA) to learn about the centers and then complete an application.

Pre-COVID, if seniors came to the centers via avenues other than CRIA, they received a tour of the facilities from center staff/volunteers, learn about the programs available and then fill out the application.

The annual fee for county residents interested in being a member of a senior center is $25. For those outside the county, it’s $35 annually. Harrison said that fee can be waived with documented proof, like a Medicaid document.

This fee allows folks to enjoy any activity or program offered at the centers or a hot meal (the congregate meal).

Meals on Wheels

Another example of community-based services with the agency are the Meals on Wheels.

“With Meals on Wheels, we can reach out to older adults who are not so active and are usually homebound,” Harrison said.

Pre-COVID, volunteers would deliver the meals to those residents. He said sometimes a senior’s contact with a volunteer would be their the only contact with the outside world.

He said if the volunteers could not get into contact with the resident who received the meals, the volunteer would inform the Center staff. Center staff would contact Prince William County Police Department to call for a welfare check.

“We often tell the residents who receive meals from the Meals on Wheels program [that]if they know they will have a doctor’s appointment or will be out of the area, [to]let us know,” he said. “This is so we know not to send the police.”

Evidence Based Programs

Evidence Based Programs are programs where studies, assessments or surveys have been done to gather information on the group of seniors before implementing the program.

Harrison said this information documents that a certain program brings positive results.

“The program will have a documentation that shows something is true and bring forth fruit by implementing it,” he said.

Examples of evidence based programs are Chronic Disease Self-Management, Matter of Balance or Bingocize (combines bingo and exercise).


“We did not expect it to affect us this long,” Harrison said. “[The agency] closed down in March 2020… [and we knew]meals couldn’t be stopped. We concentrated our efforts to get meals for the individuals.”

He said they did so with Department of Aging Rehab Services (DARS). DARS has standards of criteria to be met for a home delivered meal. DARS relaxed those standards in 2020 so entities like the agency could serve more meals to more people.

Harrison explained the agency did not want to put volunteers in harm’s way to send deliveries, so staff stepped up.

“While we still do not want to put staff in unnecessary risk either, they now deliver enough meals that can last one month,” he said.

Harrison explained that their kitchen staff has been phenomenal in generating and freezing meals to give to the residents in the county. Meals are bagged and dry goods are inserted as well.

He said the bags provide about one meal a day for a month. Harrison said CARES Act dollars allow them to partner with a company to also provide meals so people can get more than just a meal a day.

Like many organizations across the nation, the agency now has virtual programming.

The virtual programs are recorded programs that are links on a virtual site. Even the nutrition specialist has gone virtual by doing nutrition assessments over Zoom or phone counseling.

“You never know what you are able to do until you’re forced to be flexible,” he said.

Supportive Services

Nakia Speller is the agency’s Supportive Services Division Manager. She and her team assist older adults and adults with disabilities to navigate community resources and services that enable them to remain in their homes and community for as long as possible.

They serve people ages 65 and older and adults with disabilities over the age of 18, through Options Counseling. This service helps to identify needs to ensure seniors are aging well over the course of the lifespan.

Speller said she did not think COVID was going to affect them the way it has. Her Supportive Services Specialists’ job is to be in peoples’ homes and have face-to-face interaction. She said they have missed going to see the residents and wish they could do more – not just virtually or over the phone.

However, because of COVID, they are designing programs that will continue to impact and serve residents in new and innovative ways.

“Ninety percent of what we do is in the home,” she said. “We have been working on connecting with our clients where we make sure they are seen or heard. [We want to] make sure it is safe for both parties and still have a meaningful impact.”

To learn more about the agency, visit their website.

Katrina Wilson is a staff writer for Prince William Living.




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