When Jason DeaBueno was growing up in Colorado Springs in the 1980s, he would take the Silver Key Senior Services bus to the Colorado Springs Senior Center with his great-grandmother.
“That was my first introduction to Silver Key,” the organization’s new president and CEO said. “From that time forward, I’ve had the opportunity to be connected with Silver Key in many different ways.”
A licensed clinical social worker, DeaBueno holds an MBA and master’s degree in social administration and is currently working toward a doctorate of business administration.
He has spent more than 20 years leading and managing social service agencies with a strong affinity for senior services, including AspenPointe, where he was vice president for health services; Respite Research for Alzheimer’s Disease, a California adult day-care program; and Villas in Southgate, an affordable development for seniors.
DeaBueno took over leadership of Silver Key in February, as the organization approaches its 50th anniversary of providing services such as reserve-and-ride transportation, home-delivered and congregate meals, case management, guardianship and advocacy to the area’s older population.
Founded in 1970 with just one staff member and a handful of volunteers, it has grown to more than 60 employees and 850 volunteers and serves more than 7,000 seniors each year.
DeaBueno spoke with the Business Journal about his passion for the needs of older people, the role of Silver Key and opportunities for businesses to serve a growing number of seniors.
What is Silver Key’s mission today?
Silver Key serves in partnership with our stakeholders to support quality of life for seniors, allowing them the choice of safely aging in place with dignity and independence. We serve anyone age 60-plus in El Paso County, and we have a little bit of programming happening in Teller County with our Connections Café program, which is one of our congregate meal sites that we have available throughout communities.
What do you think are the needs for seniors now and in the future, and how can businesses help to meet them?
One of the major challenges is that the stock of housing options for seniors is limited. One of the areas of growth for businesses is to think about how to introduce senior-specific housing, and particularly affordable housing, which is another major issue. Finding livable options for seniors that have different accessible needs of their housing environments is a challenge.
Another area is being able to make sure that we have the mobility needs of individuals met. There’s so many different individuals who need to be able to get to doctor’s appointments proactively, and they need to be able to connect with the activities of life — going to the hairdresser, being able to get food. So I think that’s the second area for business to think about.
Technology is another place … I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what kind of technological support is available to seniors in adaptive equipment. … Businesses in the broader community may also think about adding different types of consumer products that are more aligned to what seniors need and what they’re looking for.
What would you see as necessary to start developing more housing that’s appropriate for seniors?
I think there was probably at one point a belief that it would be hard to sell [Americans with Disabilities Act-] compliant homes. And in fact, I don’t believe that to be true. I think there’s so much need out there that ADA-compliant homes actually do very well in the market. I do think that accessibility is certainly one area of opportunity. And then from an affordability perspective, we have recently learned that there are a number of seniors in homeless shelters, because they just simply can’t afford the homes that are out there. If the will of the people is to bring different opportunities to this community, I think expansion of affordable housing will happen.
I know that at the federal level, there’s certainly a drive to bring dollars, tax credits, to communities to be able to expand, and we’re in competition with a lot of different states and a lot of different needs. What’s different now from maybe even 20 years ago is that Colorado Springs has become a very attractive place for people to retire, as long as you have a place to live that you can afford.
What’s needed in the transportation area?
We need more low-cost transportation options for seniors. We have more than 44,000 rides Silver Key provided this year, and we have a unique model in that we are highly dependent on volunteers to be able to bring those rides forward. But the problem is, it’s a finite number of volunteers and a finite number of vehicles. … Uber and Lyft and other models like that have their place for people who have means and resource to be able to utilize that, but for those who don’t, Silver Key is part of the solution.
I do think that expansion would help. … We need volunteers to be able to grow our opportunity to serve more. Some of the business community has been very supportive of getting the word out to their folks that are retiring from their businesses. They’re looking for different options for their retirees. If Silver Key was part of that conversation, that they could drive for our organization, we would love to invite those folks in.
Are there other volunteer opportunities for people who are still working?
Yeah, sure. In fact, our mayor [John Suthers] was just here this morning, volunteering for our Meals on Wheels program. He was in the kitchen with his wife prepping some meals to be delivered, and he certainly has an active job. So people who have some time available, we would love to have them involved in a lot of different capacities. We have our thrift store, and with our activity program [Silver Key Active Living] that has just started, we are certainly going to be bringing in volunteers to help with different programming — classes and community events like theater shows.
What are the needs and opportunities in technology?
I wish that we had technology sophisticated enough to be able to have rides available for seniors on demand that’s affordable. Right now, it’s cost-prohibitive to do that. That’s one of the things we’re trying to figure out: Is there a way to have the same kind of technology we use to activate a Lyft ride that we would have that available for a ride that has an accommodation factor for ADA compliance?
From an adaptive perspective, technology could certainly help with limitations in ambulation. There may be a way to have technology established where braces are applied that actually learns the person’s gait and the way that they move. Right now, with a lot of prosthetic or other assistive devices, the body adapts to the device. It would be interesting if the device could adapt to the body. … I think that’s probably going to happen in the next several years, as it becomes more inexpensive to bring those technologies forward.
The other thing is, culturally, there’s differences. A 90-year-old may not be so willing to think about equipment that’s able to adapt to their body’s needs, but the 60-year-old might say, ‘That works for me.’ As the culture changes, I think it’ll be much more of an opportunity for businesses to explore.
Where do you see Silver Key going in the future?
The information that I have is that in 2010, there were about 62,000 seniors living in El Paso County, and by 2040 that number’s expected to increase to 172,000. That means for each year, 7,000 to 10,000 people will turn 65 in El Paso County, and Silver Key is often the first point of contact for those seniors and families. So one of the first things that I think that Silver Key’s role is, is to make sure that we’re aware of what’s available and to assist people to get where they need to be for the care or the services. And it’s not just the program side, it’s around how we capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and information that seniors have to bring to the community. I really see Silver Key’s role in that.
I think that nutrition is medicine; that’s maybe a different kind of frame, but nutrition not handled well is a path for a lot of challenge. [Making] sure we meet the needs of older adults in itself serves as a prevention measure. So I think that Silver Key will remain a hub for nutrition services. I think that that mobility piece will continue to be one of the key areas.
Silver Key has explored whether there’s a role for the organization to help address the affordable housing issue. We’re early in those discussions. But we’re trying to see if there is a role, what would that be? And how would we get involved with that?
What else would you like our readers to know about Silver Key?
We have our annual fundraising event that’s happening on May 8, called Engaged at Any Age. It’s going to be a lunch from 11:30 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.] at The Antlers [hotel]. It is intended to be a friendraiser and a fundraiser. We’re going to be looking for new people to introduce to Silver Key through volunteership, and it’ll be an opportunity for us to be able to share a little bit more about what our mission is, where our future of the organization is and also what some of the challenges are that we face right now. The resources to be able to serve are always a balance between what we have and what the need is. This is one way that we would be able to hopefully grow our connection to communities that are interested in investing in our mission.