Friday, March 01, 2024

COA celebrates 50th anniversary. (Ponte Vedra Recorder)


COA celebrates 50th anniversary

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On Feb. 4, 1974, the newly minted St. Johns County Citizens Advisory Council on Aging (COA’s original name) served its first congregate meal in the cafeteria of Flagler Hospital, which was then located on Marine Street in St. Augustine.

“Little did we know then that this partnership would blossom into a rich tapestry of shared initiatives and endeavors aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of our community,” said Carlton DeVooght, president and CEO of UF Health St. Johns during COA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, held Friday, Feb. 23, at River House in St. Augustine.

UF Health St. Johns is a health care enterprise extending from UF Health Flagler Hospital following a recent merger.

The well-attended celebration featured light hors d’oeuvres, memorabilia, historic newspaper clippings from COA’s first half century, a video presentation and speakers. River House is COA’s lifelong learning center and one of many initiatives launched and completed by the late Cathy Brown, who served as executive director from 1999 to 2013.

"We’re excited to be celebrating 50 years, and we look forward to continuing to grow and expand to meet the needs of the seniors in the future,” said Becky Yanni, who has served as executive director for the past 11 years.

COA launched its first transportation service during its first year. By December 1974, COA had served more than 27,000 meals to 478 seniors, 10% of which were delivered via Meals on Wheels.

Today, COA operates six senior centers, three memory care locations, a dedicated memory care facility and an adult day care. It offers door-to-door transportation for medical appointments and life-sustaining activities, as well as the Sunshine Bus, the agency’s public transportation service.

The meals continue to be a keystone of COA’s service. Last year, it served about 69,000 meals, between those served at the senior centers and those that were home-delivered.

The home deliveries are especially important for seniors who cannot get out.

“Sometimes our volunteers who deliver those meals are the only people that shut-ins see during that day,” said Yanni.

The centers provide an array of classes, programs and activities. They offer companionship, socialization, education and a good meal. At River House alone, about 500 people registered for classes in February, and it appears a similar number will sign up in March.

The transportation alone helps to ensure that seniors may not have to move into a facility should they need only a modest level of help.

“We help people stay independent in their own homes and age gracefully and age well,” said Yanni.

Much of COA’s success is reliant upon its various partnerships and about 500 volunteers. The county plays an important role by providing a 10% match for state and federal funding grants that help to make up the other 90%. The COA budget is about $8 million.

In addition, COA employs about 165 people.

Looking to the future, COA Board President Steve Harrison told those assembled that “the senior population in St. Johns County is continuing to grow exponentially. With that, of course, comes the need for more services, more programming.”

Among those recognized during the festivities were Joe Boles, who served as board president for more than 20 years, and Lonnye DeSue, wife of the late Rev. Thomas B. DeSue, who served as board president from 1975 to 1978.

During his comments, DeVooght praised COA for providing patrons with two very important intangibles.

“In my book,” he said, “there are few things that you can give to someone that mean more in various stages of life than their dignity and respect.”

Learn more about COA and what it offers at

To see what River House has scheduled for March, click HERE.

To see what THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center has scheduled for March,  click HERE.

To see what the COA Center at Flagler Health+ Village at Nocatee has scheduled for March, click HERE.

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