CLEARWATER — It seemed appropriate that Jane Pauley was the keynote speaker for the grand opening of Neighborly Care Network's new headquarters.
She's not only a familiar face from television as co-host of the Today show for 13 years and a former Dateline reporter, but a neighbor of sorts.
Pauley's parents and her Aunt Martha, now deceased, all lived in Clearwater for almost 20 years.
"Returning to the Clearwater area was a bittersweet homecoming, but more sweet," Pauley said at Thursday evening's event. "I used to come visit my parents and my Aunt Martha a lot."
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About 400 locals, business leaders, politicians and volunteers attended the grand opening for Neighborly Care Network, which provides health and wellness programs to seniors in Pinellas County.
The festivities included tours of the new facility at 13945 Evergreen Ave., which included the second floor, home to the state's newest PACE, or Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly, Center. It is one of 70 in the nation and only three in Florida.
The program's goal is to help frail seniors who qualify to be sent to nursing homes obtain services that allow them to remain at home.
"PACE is an integrated program," said Debra Shade, president and CEO of Neighborly Care Network. "It isn't just a social services program.
"It is also primary care physicians, specialty physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and assisted living. It's all one program coordinated by social workers, case managers who follow those clients and participants everywhere."
In addition to the PACE Center, the four-story building is home to Neighborly Care Network's administration, adult day services, Medicare Home Health, nutrition services, transportation, pharmacy and its choice program.
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Like many families Neighborly Care Network serves, Pauley's parents, Mary and Dick Pauley, struggled with health issues and the challenge of remaining independent as they aged.
While she visited her family frequently, they were determined to live their own life.
"They retired to Clearwater, but they didn't get the retirement they deserved," she said. "You know the expression, 'Having it all.' Well, for my parents having it all meant something different: cancer, heart attack and stroke — and that was just my mother's list."
She said her mother was an invalid for the last 15 years of her life and for a dozen of those years, her father looked after her "without complaint and notably without help."
Pauley understands the challenges that come with age, but she also sees hope.
Hope in programs like PACE and in a process she calls "reinvention." And Pauley has reinvented herself.
Now an author — her memoir is Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue — she also brings life stories about reinvention to audiences via short monthly segments on the Today show. She joked about always telling her age on Today when she was 25.
"I hadn't been back on the Today show for more than five minutes before I had told the audience I was 59," she said. "I was shining a light on the unique set of opportunities people my age and older still have."
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Many in the audience have long supported the work Neighborly Care Network has undertaken in Tampa Bay for decades.
"This is a celebration that Neighborly has had with many of you for 30 and 40 years," Shade said.
"You're here because we have one common mission: to provide services for the seniors in Pinellas County in order that they do not become institutionalized in nursing home care prematurely or unnecessarily. This day is about the people we serve."
Safety Harbor City Commissioner Mary Lynda Williams was among those who came to celebrate the mission.
"It's a fine organization," she said. "I've been a part of the Mayors for Meals program for three years and that is a humbling experience. Opening the PACE Center is a new step and a wonderful addition to the services they already provide."
The new PACE program serves 50 seniors and will have space for 100 more participants in July.
Reps. Tom Anderson and Denise Grimsley were present and honored for their support of the program.
It was a night of appetizers, levity and celebration underscored by the serious mission of the Neighborly Care Network and its improved ability to serve senior clients with the new facility. And Pauley shares the hope for that mission.
"People living longer and staying healthy longer is a powerful combination," Pauley said. "My goal in life is to make getting older something to aspire to."