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When fire erupted, Senior Advocacy Services brought calm amid calamity

It was 3 a.m. when Executive Director of Senior Advocacy Services, Crista Barnett Nelson, showed up at an evacuation shelter during the Glass fire last year to redirect her clients – seniors and disabled people who were bussed from their residential care facilities – back to the safety plan that had somehow gone askew. Though every day is fortunately not this dramatic for Crista or her staff, the level of dedication is always there. “We have been called watchdogs for seniors,” Crista says with a small smile. “My work gives me great joy and allows me to live a very value-driven life.”

In November 2020, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors presented Crista with the Carroll L. Estes Older Adults Advocacy Award for her work as a community champion and lead advocate for seniors living in the over 300 residential facilities Senior Advocacy Services [SAS] serves. Comprised of a few key staff members and volunteers, Senior Advocacy Services is one of those agencies that flies under most people’s radar, until you need them.

The services SAS provides are critical to the well-being of anyone in residential care who finds themselves without family or friends to act as an advocate, or when more information about care is needed. SAS volunteers act as the strong voice to speak up for those who cannot make their needs heard. An advocate trains to become an ombudsman, one who works with vulnerable populations to help them identify their needs and get the appropriate assistance.

For seniors and their families, who could benefit from an unbiased, knowledgeable explanation of Medicare – how to sign up and file claims – Hi-CAP [Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program] volunteers are available by appointment. The SAS Elder Justice Coordinator works closely with The Elder Justice Coalition, a collaboration of Sonoma County organizations unified in the common goal of seeking justice for elder abuse complaints.

These life-sustaining services are provided free of cost. Period. Income level does not matter. SAS secures its operating capital through fund-raising and donations. Their fund-raising events have become popular ways to participate in giving back to an agency that does so much for our community. Events have changed to accommodate COVID safety protocols.

Upcoming events not to be missed:

  • Mother’s Day Flowers: Buy as many bouquets as you like, from $25 to whatever you’d like to give. SAS volunteers will make beautiful bouquets and deliver them to women in the skilled nursing facilities. You can purchase bouquets in a loved one’s memory and SAS will make sure your special person will receive a letter acknowledging they have been honored.
  • Sips4Seniors: Wine tasting at it’s best. This is a virtual tasting that will feature exclusive access to the winery, providing you a unique opportunity to really learn what went into making each wine. The host will virtually walk you through the intricacies of the wine while you enjoy two different varieties in your own home. It will be paired with various food and special gifts, including two Reidel wine glasses. This is a recurring event with a different winery each month and is not to be missed. Limited tickets are sold to maintain an intimate experience.

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