SAA-ROBERTS

Jimmy Roberts, executive director of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, stands inside his new office on Mosby Lane in Front Royal. The agency serves five counties, including Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren and also the City of Winchester.

FRONT ROYAL — After having been with the organization for seven years, Jimmy Roberts has been named the executive director of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging.

Roberts, 62, most recently served as the Director of Care Management for the nonprofit organization, which serves Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties as well as the City of Winchester. He takes over the position after Linda Holtzapple, who served as executive eirector for four years, retired.

Roberts, a military child who eventually settled in Michigan, moved to the valley about seven years ago after one of his children moved here and started a family.

Upon making the move, Roberts exited the corporate world and decided to pursue a master’s degree in counseling. That led him to the SAAA.

“I just didn’t feel that was fulfilling anymore, so I decided to go into the human services side of life. It really came down to the fact that I was serving myself, and I wanted to serve other people,” he said. “I was a CEO in the corporate world for years, so it’s just the next step (to move to executive director) when you’re with a company. People transition, jobs open up.”

Roberts said he decided to work with senior citizens because they “can sometimes be a little more disadvantaged.”

“We take a lot of things for granted that they don’t. Something as simple as driving a car, going to the store, getting your hair done — things like that are gone for a lot of people,” he said. “So, social isolation and loneliness sits in. The basic things in life begin to suffer, and that can affect the dignity and quality of life. I think we need to pay attention more to this population.”

Roberts said what the SAAA does is “come alongside these people and offer them solutions so that they can continue the quality of life that they’ve enjoyed.”

“Seniors are the ones who have given so much to our community, so we need to take care of them,” he said.

Taking over the role in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges, Robert said, noting there’s no blueprint or “track record” of what to do in terms of “getting back to normal,” especially when serving a population of people who have been impacted the most by the virus over the last 15 months.

The SAAA’s main office, at 207 Mosby Lane in Front Royal, just reopened after having been closed since March of 2020 and Roberts said he and his staff are working to gradually reopen the organization’s six senior centers.

“Those two items there are keeping us busy for awhile,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into reopening a congregate site with the population that’s been most vulnerable to the virus. It’s more a challenge for us than other places. There’s a lot of work that has to be done.”

Roberts said the SAAA is also planning to get its transport vans back on the road.

In the same breath, Roberts still must think about what’s next for the agency. He said one of the issues at the forefront of those thoughts is how to obtain more volunteers as well as a director of volunteer services.

“I want to grow this volunteer program. There’s no way a nonprofit can compete with something like a minimum wage increase. We can’t raise prices, because we don’t have prices. How can serve the same population at the same amount when our payroll is going up 10 or 15%?” he said. “My idea, and it’s not new at all, is to address the volunteer issue. Many of the volunteers fell away when COVID hit.”

Roberts said volunteerism has been growing the last couple of decades and he hopes that will resume with communities opening back up. He said he also expects to see more folks volunteering with multiple organizations.

Moving forward, Roberts said he he’s most looking forward to “keeping the momentum going” for an organization that’s been servicing the region since 1975 while “taking it to the next level.”

“But under that umbrella, I think we can expand our senior centers more, which means to have more senior centers to address that isolation and loneliness that has always been there but has been brought to more of a light during COVID,” he said. “I think people are more sensitive to it and will work harder to address it now.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com