'Berks Encore works with the community to engage older adults to help them achieve a better quality of life through services, referrals, education and advocacy,' said Melissah Jablonski, Vice President of Marketing and Development, Berks Encore.

Services include free Medicare and information and referral counseling, free income tax preparation, free education sessions on topics including 'What Every Child Should Know,' Powers of Attorney and Medicare as well as special monthly educational programs at all of the six Berks Encore centers.

In addition, Berks Encore manages the Meals on Wheels program and delivers more than 750 nutritious meals each weekday to homebound seniors.

Jablonski explained that the six centers, which are located in Birdsboro, Fleetwood, Hamburg, Shillington, Reading and Wernersville, provide social activities for older adults including exercise classes, crafts, games, educational programming and a noontime meal.

Lisa Lorah, manager of the Berks Encore Fleetwood, said some of the favorite activities at the Fleetwood center include the exercise class, Pinochle, Hossie, Texas Hold'em, Line Dancing, the Fitness Room and, of course, BINGO.

'What I personally like about Berks Encore is how much we make a difference in so many people's lives in a positive way. There are people who would be very lonely and depressed without the center and the friends they have made here,' said Lorah.

She also likes the assistance that they give people with their insurance decisions.

'We can save some people lots of money by giving them 'choices' to switch to an insurance plan that better fits their needs,' said Lorah.

The benefits she sees seniors receive from going to the center include camaraderie, making new friends, having fun, health education and screenings.

'We have become one big happy family here at the Fleetwood Center and we are always looking for new long lost relatives to join us!' said Lorah.

Jablonski emphasized the importance of noting that the variety of services offered to older adults in Berks County are not strictly for those who are low income.

'Our services are available for all older adults, regardless of income level,' said Jablonski. 'That also holds true for the Meals on Wheels program, which is designed to assist anyone over the age of 60 who is homebound and cannot prepare his or her own meal.'

In addition to current programs, Jablonski said staff continually attend training sessions and meet with other similar agencies to keep abreast of new advances in serving this growing population.

'Our staff, board, community partners, and volunteers are committed to meeting the needs of Berks County's aging population through existing programs as well as through new and innovative methods,' Jablonski said.

One example is their Volunteer Grocery Shopping program which was unveiled several months ago. With the assistance of community partner Redner's Warehouse Markets, Berks Encore delivers groceries to older adults who are unable to make the trip to the store on their own.

'Within two months of the program's launch, the program grew to 48 clients and 114 volunteer applications and expanded to include 10 Redner's Warehouse Markets' locations in Berks County,' she said.

The agency also offers a variety of volunteer opportunities including Meals on Wheels, Friendly Visitor and Grocery Shopping Program in addition to counseling opportunities in their Information and Referral department, she said.

'Berks Encore would not be able to provide the breadth of services that it does without the dedication of its more than 1,450 volunteers who work behind the scenes to assist us with completing our mission,' said Jablonski. 'Last year, our volunteers contributed 50,832 hours of service for a total value of $1,107,629 in volunteer time to Berks Encore, based on the Independent Sector's value of $21.79 per hour.'

Each year Berks Encore holds a special recognition event to thank these individuals for their selfless acts and their dedication to serving older adults in Berks County, she said.

'I'd like to point out though that many of our volunteers are older adults themselves, which truly drives home the importance of mission for everyone,' said Jablonski.

Lorah encouraged seniors to contact the center any time.

'Don't be afraid to reach out to us. Call me or stop into the center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., to get all the information you're looking for.'

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