Senior center director has new title but years of experience

David Peck
After more than 30 years of service to the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center in Lovell, longtime secretary Kim Gifford was named director of the Center in June and with her experience was able to hit the ground running.

Gifford has worked for the Center for 31 years after moving with husband Bill to Lovell from Upstate New York. She served as the Center secretary for director Denise Andersen for 27 years and Julie Durham for three years. She was named interim director on May 15 and director on June 2.

Gifford grew up in the Lake George area some 60 miles north of Albany, New York, and when future husband Bill went to work at the 1000 Acres Ranch Resort near Lake George, he met Kim, who was working in the office at the dude ranch. The two were married in 1989 and moved to Wyoming in 1990.

Gifford started filling in at the Senior Center kitchen, working vacation relief, and when Andersen was hired as the director in October of 1990, Gifford was hired as her secretary. The two good friends worked together for nearly three decades.

As a 30-plus-year employee of the center, Gifford said the transition to director has gone smoothly.

“It’s a good thing when you’re in the organization for this long, because you’re familiar with the workings of the Center, where all the funding comes from and that kind of stuff,” she said. “You don’t have to figure it all out like a new person coming in. But of course there are things that I’ve had to learn, the inner workings and that kind of thing. But like I said, I had the background of how everything worked and working with Denise and the staff for so long I understood how things went.

“We were shorthanded for four months, so I was still doing my duties as a secretary and then was learning the director job, as well.”

Kiana Wagner is the new Center secretary, hired June 24.

With some major work on the building already completed, Gifford said she can focus on service and programming.

“We’re actually in a really good place right now,” she said. “(I’m) mostly just reaching out to the newly 60s and maybe people we are not serving at this point to see who needs services. Outreach is a big part of what we do.

“I have a great staff, and we all work as a team to ensure we provide great customer service.”

Gifford said reaching out to people is mainly done through word of mouth and hearing that someone needs services, then reaching out to them.

“Families will call us and say, ‘We need to set up meals for my mom or my dad,’” she said. “You get referrals that way. Sometimes we just go through and brainstorm and figure out who do we think is 60, and then we put them on the mailing list and reach out that way.

“Meals and transportation and socialization is what we do, but outreach is how we try to get new people involved.”

Gifford said the Center serves an average of 112 meals a day, both at the center and delivered, which she said is up a little from previous years. The center service area is Lovell, Byron, Cowley, Deaver and Frannie.

She added that the Center served 622 unduplicated participants in the meal program for the last fiscal year and served a total of 29,287 meals. The Center also served more than 200 unduplicated participants in the support services programs in transportation, socialization, exercise, health treatment and prevention.

The Center also reaches out by holding senior gatherings a couple times a month in outlying communities, Gifford said, noting the Frannie Lunch Bunch on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at the Frannie Town Hall and the Deaver Diners on the alternate weeks at the Deaver Community Center on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the week.

A new Cowley Lunch Bunch met for the first time on September 28 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cowley. Jan Ellis is organizing the Cowley group, Gifford said.

“We take meals, and they meet and visit, while they eat their meal,” she said of the gatherings.

As for future programming and services, Gifford said, it’s status quo for right now.

“It’s early on, and I’m just trying to figure it all out and continue the services as we’ve been doing,” she said. “Maybe in the future we’ll have some new ideas.”

A labor of love

Asked what the best thing is about working at the Center, Gifford didn’t hesitate.

“Definitely getting to know all the seniors, hearing their stories, finding out what their life was like and just making sure people are getting services that need them,” she said in answer to the question.

The Center currently has 10 staff members, full-time and part-time, and “a couple of fill-ins,” she said. The Center board of directors oversees the operations, and Gifford reports to that board, chaired by Gary Mills, and the senior center district board handles the finances.

“It’s been a great place to work for all these years,” Gifford said. “We’re just going to continue. It’s the same great senior center that it’s always been, and we’re going to continue with that tradition.”

Bill and Kim Gifford have two sons, Cody of Laramie, an assistant professor of animal science at the University of Wyoming, and Kade of Spearfish, South Dakota, who has started a construction company, False Bottom Construction. They have two grandchildren through Cody and his wife, Megan.