Patti Lyons, president of Senior Citizens, Inc.
Husband Patrick Lyons. “He’s one of nine children. I have lots of nieces and nephews.
years at Senior Citizens
10,000 a year in Chatham, Bryan, Liberty and Effingham counties
More than 450
“Eighty-one. And we have a senior companion program with peer-to-peer support. The federal program allows us to pay a stipend to 72 companions. We match them with a senior who is homebound, and they do light housekeeping, prepare meals, play cards. We treat them like employees (but they are not).”
“I graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville as an agriculture major. (I wanted to own a farm.) After a couple of years of figuring out how to be an adult, I went back to school and got a master’s in business.
“I lived in Dallas a couple of years, and I worked for the transit authority of Fort Worth. Also I worked for the governor of Tennessee as one of his aides, writing speeches and taking the budget and figuring out how to explain it to the legislators — basically selling the budget.
“I’ve worked for several nonprofits. For four years, I was executive director of Hands On in Nashville where I worked with every nonprofit in town and recruited volunteers for many nonprofits.
“We moved to Savannah in 1997. And Senior Citizens was looking for a president.
“I just think fate dropped me here. I didn’t have any experience with older adults. But I knew how to run a nonprofit. I had worked with budgets.”
what Senior Citizens does
“We do everything from delivering meals to helping people downsize to helping seniors get rides to the grocery store. ... Our goal is to help people age successfully.
“In its Meals on Wheels program, volunteers deliver lunch and sometimes breakfast and dinner to 1,800 home bound seniors a day. Senior Citizens also runs two day care centers for 50 adults a day. In addition it has three traditional senior centers — two in Savannah and one in Hinesville. And it has The Learning Center, a center where seniors take classes from volunteer lecturers including college professors.”
what she does
“I try to raise money and make sure we spend it most efficiently. I work with staff to find out what we do next. I’m constantly working with unmet needs — people who can’t afford to get our services. We have a waiting list. We have to get grants to pay for services. If someone can afford it, we can start the services immediately. Also. I work with legislators. Sometimes I deliver meals. I’ve done lectures at The Learning Center.”
why are you successful?
“Because I have wonderful people I work with. And I’m fortunate that the board hasn’t figured out they couldn’t work without me. The organization is successful because there are compassionate people who are here. And we are never satisfied with the status quo ... If you have an issue and you’re over the age of 55, call us.”
do you have a favorite quote?
“I’ve got tons of them. There’s one by Mark Twain: ‘The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you realize why.’ And to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr: We can all be great because greatness doesn’t come from money or our position but from service to others.”
“I think being the president of Senior Citizens. I am so proud that we started the Learning Center. That is something that will last longer than I will ... I am humbled that when I pass my obituary will say I was president of Senior Citizens.”
“I was able to have my mom live with me the last five years of her life. And she was able to die with me last May. (Afterward,) I needed emotional support, someone to help me. And our caregivers did that for me ... I saw the power of this organization. I totally saw it on a different level. It helped me go on.”
“To retire from Senior Citizens one day and to enjoy life with this huge family that I have. I’m looking forward to growing old together.”
future plans for Senior Citizens
“We are working hard to position ourselves for the silver tsunami — the baby boomers getting older, the doubling of seniors in this county within 10 years. We are the organization they turn to for help. We need to learn what services we’ll add, what does the facility look like? We’ve got to be ready. It’s coming fast.
“Transportation continues to be a huge barrier for older adults. We provide volunteer transportation and work with CAT on how they can better serve our seniors.
“And the biggest thing: Medicare is realizing how important home services are to seniors. They’re pioneering a program for nutrition and an aide at the home. If you can take care of people before it’s catastrophic, the results are a happier person and less cost. ... There’s a place for nursing homes, but people shouldn’t move there because they can’t drive.”
tips for other nonprofits
“Never lie to your board of directors. Also, to me, there are common sense things: You have to be able to tell your story in a compelling way. And hold that trust. I sound very preachy, but people trust a nonprofit that they’re giving money to and you’ve got to maintain your honor with that.
Also, I think people should try new things and take risks. I don’t think they should avoid trying a new way to help. With The Learning Center, on paper it was a risk. But now it’s this wonderful entity. And when Meals on Wheels started 55 years ago, it served only 13 adults.”
things to avoid
“I’m very conservative from a financial standpoint. This is very important for every nonprofit — to not spend more than you have. ... (Someone) may say they’ll give you money but don’t spend it ahead because the situation may change.”
why Savannah works for us
“This is one of the most caring and generous cities that I have ever lived in. ... There’s the sheer number of volunteers. And the fact that a community our size can raise $9 million for United Way.”
do you have a website?
“Yes, and we have a blog, too, from our house cat Petunia. ... She just wrote about our upcoming blanket drive and how she likes that. But she’s not a deep thinker. She’s always thinking about her food bowl.”