Aimee Hanna has moved in some extremely upscale circles over the years, and is now applying some of her talents to help Aiken County's needier elderly residents.
The executive director of Aiken Senior Life Services came on board in late October, and she's a happy witness to weekly "parades" that warm her heart, in connection with the ongoing effort to provide hundreds of hot meals for senior citizens .
"I think what's satisfying is seeing the parade of seniors come into our dining room and enjoy a hot meal each afternoon, and then the parade of volunteers that happily come in and pick up the other hot meals and take them to the far reaches of Aiken County," she said.
Her agency, funded via the local, county, state and federal governments and the United Way, is based at 159 Morgan St. and dates back to 1971.
"Many people know us as the Aiken Area Council on Aging. We changed our name about two years ago … but we are still providing the hot, nutritious meals to the homebound seniors," she said. "I think what's most important is that it's not just delivering a meal. We're delivering sort of a wellness check on them as well, making sure that they're up and dressed and functional and around.
"I think that's important. The interaction that our volunteers have with our seniors, I think, is so invaluable."
Hanna, just prior to moving to Aiken, worked for decades in the high-end retail industry.
"I worked at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which is a five-star, five-diamond resort in the Allegheny Mountains," she said.
Her responsibilities, she said, included opening five retail stores in the resort.
"I was there for 21 years, but this is a dramatic change for me, working for a not-for-profit, and I think that there was almost a calling for me, to want to work in an industry that’s a little bit more altruistic," she said.
She also retraced the route that led her, her husband and their three boys to Aiken. "My family and I moved here about 2½ years ago. We have family here, and it was really kind of word of mouth. Someone had learned about my background and said, 'They could really use you at Aiken Senior Life Services.'"
Her background "really … lends itself to this business," she said. "I think even though it's a not-for-profit, and I haven't been involved with not-for-profits before, you're still leading teams to success, and you're inspiring and motivating people to collaborate toward all successful endeavors. That's really the bottom line. That's what we do here."
The current arrangement has Hanna's crew serving about 300 hot meals a day, but plans are for a dramatic increase.
"Gov. McMaster, just recently, is requesting that we get rid of our wait list, which is about 200 seniors, and incorporate it into our existing meal routes that we do, so we're looking, probably, in the next six weeks to be serving 500 meals out of this building … Multiply that times five days a week. That's a lot of hot meals."
The core concept, she said, is to fulfill the biblical mandate to feed the hungry. "That’s what we’re doing here at this agency. We’re feeding the hungry," she said.
More volunteers will be a required as part of the package, and the primary daily duty, involving 45 minutes to an hour, is to deliver meals and a quick, friendly greeting to 10-14 people along a route – "pretty streamlined," she said.
Hanna, a native of Buffalo, New York, knows a few things about efficiency, as her background also includes work in both commercial and residential real estate and also enthusiastic membership in the Aiken Toastmasters Club.
Her favorite pursuits, she said, include reading, writing, oil painting and cooking gourmet meals. Her home team includes her husband, Paul, and three sons: Alexander, 15; Jack, 13; and William, 10.
Current data from the U.S. Census Bureau, regarding people age 65 and older, show the statewide level at 17.7%. Aiken County is at 19.4%; Aiken, 25.9%; and North Augusta, 17.2%.