Now I see

A focus on Charlotte County seniors

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

Truly, I didn’t know, and I didn’t know that I didn’t know and for that I am very sorry.

My word for 2023 is “see”. As this year has progressed, I have come to realize that there were things that were within my view but that weren’t quite in focus. Just like the expression goes, I couldn’t see the forest for the (palm) trees.

My career has been focused on the prevention of human suffering. Undoubtedly, my drive for social work can be linked back to the losses I experienced as a child, whether it be my parents’ divorce or the loss of a sibling at the age of 13. My desire has always been to start upriver to ensure that everything possible is done to keep people from experiencing unnecessary pain and loss.

Yet even with that lens since moving to Charlotte County nearly two decades ago, it seems my eyes have been blinded to the things happening right before me. In the midst of the forest of people in our community, many folks are extremely isolated - seniors who moved here and are no longer living close to immediate family, caregivers trying to figure out how to navigate a system not designed to handle the influx.

There are people who are progressing in the later phases of life who are either alone or far from their family or living with family while experiencing cognitive decline due to dementia or Alzheimer’s.

I am part of what is referred to as the sandwich generation where I have a teenager in the home and a mother-in-law who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year and a half ago. My mother-in-law has lived with us for seven years and the symptoms of this illness crept up and leapt in it seems all at the same time. I am seeing firsthand how aging impacts the person, the family and in many ways the community as a whole.

During our strategic planning sessions last summer, the needs of Charlotte County seniors rose to the surface as a pressing issue. The UWCC Board of Directors agreed that more could be done through our agency to mobilize the community to help meet these needs.

Now I see.

I’m sorry I didn’t see it before.

Through our Community Impact Panel process, two new programs that target seniors in Charlotte County were identified for funding:  Friendship at Home and the Senior Engagement Program.

Friendship at Home is a crisis and supportive intervention, advocacy and connection program, run by Senior Friendship Centers, that serves frail clients in a crisis and can help to relieve isolation and loneliness.

“Supporting older adults in crisis is so important, whether it’s social isolation and loneliness, a financial strain, or food insecurity, and Friendship at Home is the answer,” said Erin McLeod, President & CEO of Senior Friendship Centers.

This program has been successfully implemented in other counties in our region, and I am thrilled to support its full inception in our community.

In addition to Friendship at Home, UWCC funding will be used to support Charlotte County Homeless Coalition’s Senior Engagement Program. They will coordinate an extensive volunteer program for seniors who are isolated from their peers and the community, enabling them to engage with the community through activities and support.

Your contribution to United Way of Charlotte County’s 2023-2024 campaign will help provide funding for Friendship at Home and the Senior Engagement Program. And just like there are 2,600 species of palm trees, there are thousands of older adults in Charlotte County with varying needs, not to mention their caregivers’ needs. As I have stepped into the role of caregiver this past year, we have been blessed with incredible support from those who I call walking angels. You know who you are, and I am grateful.

As my vision has become clearer through my personal experience, I can “see” opportunities on the horizon. These new programs will begin to address a small sampling of the needs of our growing senior population, and UWCC will continue to seek other resources to fill in the gaps.

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For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at