Olivia Burdick, Executive Director at Rainbow Senior Center

How did you become interested in this work?

I was introduced to the Rainbow Senior Center and serving the aging population as an intern during my last semester at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  I had no idea that it would launch a long term career and become something that I would end up being extremely passionate about.  I was fortunate enough to be hired with the organization before I graduated and I served mostly in a development role before becoming Executive Director in 2016.

What drives your passion?

I am a very competitive person by nature and that drives my passion in many ways.  I feel that we live in a society that has a hard time embracing aging.  We are endeared to our elders but we do not embrace elderhood.  It frightens us, puts us in denial and far too often allows us an excuse to overlook the complexities of aging with an improved quality of life.  My competitive spirit and passion for the aging empowers me every day to keep advocating and pushing the limits to break the perceptions of what growing older means and to better the experience.

Does your organization offer any programs other than home meal delivery? If so, what are they?

We offer several programs that supplement Home Delivered Meals including:
  • Newspaper Delivery-We provide a newspaper to homebound seniors once a week.
  • Flower Delivery-We partner with our local grocery store to provide donated fresh flower arrangements to homebound seniors to brighten their day.
  • Pet Food Assistance-We deliver pet food to seniors that are not able to provide for their pet companions.
  • Produce Delivery-We deliver free, fresh produce from our gardens at the Center to homebound seniors with a simple, easy to prepare recipe.
For those that are not homebound and are able to attend the Center, we also offer many additional programs and activities including:
  • Congregate Lunch-We provide lunch at the Center 5 days a week for seniors to eat a healthy meal and socialize with friends.
  • Social Activities-We offer the opportunity for daily social interaction through playing group games, dancing, and arts and crafts.
  • Fitness-We offer a Dual Membership program with the local YMCA to provide seniors with physical activity classes, instructors and equipment.
  • Education-We provide educational seminars and lunch and learns on a variety of topics ranging from financial health to technology to health and wellness, and offer health fairs, health screenings and a health care resource library which is open to the community.
  • Community Garden-We provide free, fresh produce to increase accessibility and affordability of nutritious fruits and vegetables.
  • Home Health Closet-We offer free medical equipment to the community at no cost.
  • Transportation-We provide transportation to seniors in the community who are no longer able to drive.  The service provides rides to and from the center, to medical appointments and to receive other basic needs.
  • Volunteering-We offer many volunteer opportunities throughout each day to keep seniors feeling a sense of value, independence, belonging and empowerment.

What’s the biggest challenge in your work?

As a Senior Center, our mission is to improve the quality of life for the aging in our community.  So when you add the social complexities of accepting what aging means to us all and you bring individuals in for a tour of the senior center and they see: bingo, bridge play, and dominoes, many do not see past the layer of the activity.  The simple understanding is that we feed people, that Meals on Wheels is the important activity.  They do not see that in each of those other more simple activities and even with Meals on Wheels, socialization is taking place.  They do not understand the importance, the impact or the influence that socialization has on things like mental health, dementia or elderly depression; or how each of those things relates to chronic disease, and the management of the disease.  That is where we have to educate and advocate for our efforts.  It is easy to see the face of hunger or poverty; it is hard to see the development of mental or emotional deterioration.  It is even harder to do this if we ourselves fear growing old.  We have a tough mission.

What’s the best advice that you have ever received?

I have been very fortunate to have wonderful mentorship and great advice so early on in my career.    One of the best pieces of advice I have received is to never stop learning.  Seth Godin captured it well in one of his blog posts. “We learn as we go.  If we stop going, we stop learning…and, if we’re not willing to keep learning, we should probably stop going.”

Was there a client, volunteer, or poignant moment in your work that has had a great impact on you?

There have been so many moments, stories, and people that have made an impact on me and the work that I do.  On any given day, I will hear “I don’t know what I would do without this place” from a senior, caregiver or volunteer.  That is what keeps me going, keeps me wanting to do more, to serve more people, to make more of an impact.  I once heard someone say that you can gauge the quality of life in any community by going to its local senior center.  I hope anyone that comes to Boerne, TX would be proud of the way we care for our seniors.