The Ashland Senior Center will have a referral specialist on site once a week to ensure the social services continue to be provided to seniors until a new manager is hired, parks officials have announced.

The effort comes out from a partnership between Ashland Parks and Recreation and Rogue Valley Council of Governments, a Central Point-based voluntary association that provides services such as Food and Friends in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The referral specialist, Katie Merola, will provide seniors with information about both public and private services and refer them to appropriate programs catering to their needs.

“I’m here to answer questions, to help gather information if you need and referral if you need it to provide you resources in the community that you are struggling with,” Merola said. “If there’s a need for option counseling — in-person assistance with long term care — I will able to refer you too.”

Merola said she will have access to a database of more than 350 services and resources throughout Jackson and Josephine counties to direct seniors toward the right programs.

“We would be looking at different resources in the community to assist with the fall risk in your home,” she said in an example of someone has trouble of falling. “We’ll find somebody who could come in and help you fix those problems to make sure you’re safe in your own home.”

The program is free and doesn’t require an appointment. Merola will be at the Ashland Senior Center every Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. Seniors could also get help from Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC), a supportive branch under RVCOG, on days she’s not on site.

“You can call and talk to an informational referral specialist and they will provide you different resources from the community,” Merola said. “We get back to you within 24 hours to make sure we can provide you those resources.”

The number for the referral service is 541-681-7572.

The announcement of the program drew attention from seniors in attendance at the at the ad hoc Ashland Senior Program Advisory Committee listening session on Dec. 20, the same day the new program started.

Members of Support Our Seniors, a group created after the Senior Center manager was laid off in August, questioned whether the new referral program would sufficiently replace services previously provided at the center.

An Ashland SOS member asked Merola what could be done if a senior couldn’t physically be at the center on Wednesday.

“We would help them look for transportation,” Merola said, explaining that she could only refer seniors to appropriate services available, and not conduct outreach efforts.

Ad hoc committee member Katharine Danner said seniors could also use the ADRC website to look for programs and services level they need.

Parks Director Michael Black said the effort comes in hopes of creating consistency at the center.

“We’re trying very hard and it does get difficult at times,” Black said, referring to the step down of an interim professional staffer at the center in October. “We want people to know that we want to keep the doors open, to have resources and services remain and to move forward.”

Several members at the listening session continued to demand the center rehire the laid-off manager, while others urged the ad hoc committee to at least talk to her to further understand the center's services as previously offered prior to making a recommendation.

“What’s missing here is a passionate person with an institutional memory,” a senior said.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.