In mid 1975, the S.O.W. Board decided to apply for a federal grant for a Nutrition Program for the Elderly, through Older Americans Act funds of 1964 which provided daily meals at congregate dining sites.
The first grant was written by Nancy Picard, a volunteer who served as the director of the Nutrition program for the first 6 months. Diane Morthland was hired to take her place in July 1976. The budget totaled $90,145 and we served 100 meals daily (five days a week) at the following sites: St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Belleview, Ferre Medical Building in Ocala, and the Methodist Church in Anthony
In October 1976, a new program funded through Older Americans Act funds was added, to provide transportation and homemaker service. The first Director for this program was Eleanor Preston, wife of the Ft. King Presbyterian Church minister, Dr. Frank Preston. The office was located on the grounds of that church and started off with one leased van and 3 homemakers.
In January 1977, the Nutrition Program and the Homemaker/ Transportation Program combined, with Diane Morthland as Executive Director for the combined programs.
As additional federal funds became available, we opened other dining sites in Dunnellon, Ocala (Harvey Fellowship Hall and the Municipal Trailer Park) Ft. McCoy and Santos. At the present time our site locations are: Belleview; Flemington; Forest; Marion Oaks; Ocala - Main Office, Harvey and Multipurpose Senior Center; Salt Springs, Silver Springs Shores; Sparr; and Weirsdale.
In the beginning S.O.W. (Meals on Wheels) and the Marion County Nutrition Program operated separately, but shared the same Board of Directors. The name was changed from Service on Wheels to Marion County Senior Services, Inc., in April 1979 and in October of 1979 the two services combined to share staff and office space.
We still maintain an independent Meals on Wheels Program which is funded as it was in the beginning, with local donations, United Way funding, and fees based on a sliding scale. Maintaining this separate program allows us to serve needy clients of any age. The federal programs are restricted to those 60 years of age and older. Local match funds (cash or in- kind) are required to secure grant funds.
In 1980, MCSS began participation in the state-funded Community Care for the Elderl Program. CCE is a continuum of care for functionally impaired, frail, elderly to enable them to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible. Case managers plan both in-home support services as well as other community resources (such as food stamps, SSI, Medicaid, legal services, doctor appointments, etc.) while working with the clients until their problems are solved.
In 1982, the Metropolitan Planning Organization designated Marion County Senior Services as the Coordinated Community Transportation Provider for the transportation disadvantaged in Marion County including coordinating all transportation trips using public funds such as Medicaid. Operating, administrative and capital funds were provided by the Florida Department of Transportation with local match from Marion County. Since 1991, the Transportation Disadvantaged Commission has also provided funds to pay for clients not sponsored by any agency or organization. Sponsored trips include Medicaid and elder programs. We currently operate 31 daily routes to transport elderly, disabled and transportation disadvantaged persons throughout Marion County. In 1994 our transportation service was renamed Marion Transit Services to more accurately reflect the diverse ridership.
In 1989, three new state-funded programs were added: Community Care for Disabled Adults, Alzheimer's Disease Initiative, Community Care for the Elderly Diversions Program.
These programs allowed us to provide services to severely disabled adults 18-59, to provide more frequent and intensive in-home services to clients at risk of nursing home placement and to provide much needed support, particularly respite, to families of Alzheimer’s victims.
Additional programs/services added in 1993: Medicaid Waiver services for low-income clients who would otherwise be placed in nursing homes at a greater cost to the state (replacing the Elderly Diversions Program) and Preventative/Health Promotion Services (Title III-F) funded through the Older Americans Act.
Beginning January 1, 1996, we began administering the Home Care for the Elderly Programs, which offers case management and subsidy payments to caregivers as an alternative to institutionalization. III-F funds were discontinued. In May, Diane Morthland retired after 23 years with our agency and Gail Cross was named the new Executive Director.
In order to expand needed services in 1997, the agency implemented an intensive volunteer recruitment program for in-home services with a special grant from the Department of Elder Affairs. As DOEA funding decreased, we requested and received United Way funding to continue to provide our part time Volunteer Coordinator. State-funded programs began requiring a co-pay based on income of all clients. In 2001, we began the Living Options and Valued Experience (L.O.V.E.) Program for private pay clients (renamed Preferred Care in 2005).
In 2003, we received a CDBG grant through Marion County to construct a new central facility housing all programs together on land donated by the City of Ocala. The agency moved to its current location in December, 2004.
In April, 2009, Gail Cross retired as Executive Director after 13 years of service to the agency and Sarah Stroh, the current Finance Director, was selected to be the new Executive Director.
In January, 2011, the Board of Directors voted to change the name of the agency from Marion County Senior Services to Marion Senior Services as well as changing the company logo. These changes was made as many in the community mistakenly thought we were part of the Marion County government and not a private non-profit agency; hence the name and logo were changed to differentiate ourselves from being a governmental agency.
In September, 2013, Marion Senior Services celebrated 40 years of service to Marion County residents! MSS has really made a difference in the lives of our clients over the past 40 years by providing services that have enabled them to remain independent in their own homes.
In the fall of 2015, Sarah Stroh retired as the Executive Director after an incredible nine years of service and Jennifer Martinez was named the new Executive Director. After 20 dedicated years, Jemith Rosa retired as the Community Care Director and Cassandra Jackson was selected as the new Community Care Director.
In June, 2016, Donna Hersom retired with over 20 years of service and the agency named Tom Wilder as the new Transportation Director. At the end of the year, Marion Transit installed new software, RouteMatch, bringing innovative passenger transportation technologies to help our agency transform rider experiences and manage operational costs. By doing so, the agency gained additional visibility into our data which allows better service to our community.
From a small volunteer-based program in the 70's and then a recipient of program grants, Marion Senior Services has evolved into two primary contractor roles for our community. We serve as the “lead agency’ and service provider for state and federally funded contracts to provide services to elderly and disabled through specific “contracts” for service with our regional Area Agency on Aging. And we are the designated Community Transportation Coordinator providing public paratransit service to elderly, disabled, and low-income people throughout Marion County, through contracts with the Commission for Transportation Disadvantaged, Florida Department of Transportation, and SunTran (for ADA trips).
BOARD CHAIRPERSONS (1976 - 2017): Karen May, Sally Williams, Mary Steddom, Fran Smith, David Huffman, Charles DeMenzes, Robert Taylor, Joy Bazo, Dennis Robson, Robert Taylor, Ann Hunter, Robert Mathews, William Woods, Juanita Cunningham, Dane Griffin, Bernard Watts, Paul Clark, Colleen Duris, Jean Imes, William Taylor
2005 – Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce – Not for Profit Business of the Year
2007 – Experience Works – Florida Outstanding Employer of the Year
2009 – United Way of Marion County – Spirit of Marion County Award (for company with100-499 employees)
2010 - Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce – Not for Profit Business of the Year
2010 – Florida Council on Aging – Senior Vision Media Award (for intergenerational photoproject with WestPort High School)
2011 – Experience Works – State Champion Award for Outstanding Community Partner
2013 – Florida Council on Aging – Public Service Award winner – Mildred Musho (for “Give aBuck” campaign)
2014 – Florida Council on Aging – Public Service Award winners – Andrea Flannery & NancyGrabowski (for starting food pantry at MSS through Women of the World group atOTOW)