Thornton’s passion serving area elderly

Published 10:39 am Friday, October 9, 2015

By John Surratt

The Vicksburg Post


For Allene Thornton, helping the elderly of the community is more than a matter of keeping busy.

“The elderly are my passion and I’m one of them,” the president and chief executive officer of the Community Council of Warren County said. And that passion goes back to the lessons instilled in her and her siblings since childhood that led her not only to work with the elderly, but to tell her story of surviving breast cancer.

“In my family, the Gore family, we were taught from birth that service to others was the rent we pay on this earth, and that was homed into us all the time,” she said, “Added to that, my grandmother, who died at 104, kept telling me this was a youth-oriented society, and it was nothing out there for the elderly. She was my inspiration.

“I prayed about that, and it kept bugging me, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do.’”

To make sure she had the proper background, she said, she went to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and Charleston Community College in Charleston, South Carolina, for certification in gerontology, a study of the aging process and things that affect the aging.

“Nobody offered a degree at the time,” she said, “Now every college in America offers a degree in gerontology.”

The Community Council is a private, non-profit organization that receives federal, state, city and county funds and is an agency with United Way of West Central Mississippi.

“I’m proud to say we have won 43 nation and state and county awards for outstating service for senior citizens,” she said.

“Our mission is to keep the elderly in their own homes with all the dignity they deserve and keep them out of long-term care facilities as long as possible.”

It was during her work as a director for the Retired Senior Volunteer program, a federal program that used senior citizen volunteers to help the community, that Thornton became interested in working closer with the elderly.

“In working with the program, I kept thinking, ‘We’ve got volunteers in the mainstream of society, and they’re doing all this volunteer work that money could not buy, but everyday.’ But when I would go pickup my volunteers, I would notice that the basic human needs were not being met in Vicksburg and Warren County — food, clothing, shelter, transportation to the doctor and social service needs.”

In 1976 she established transportation services for the elderly and home-delivered meals to the elderly.

“At one time, I had five congregate feeding sites where we picked them up in vans and brought them to eat a hot meal every day,” she said adding the program when the federal government decided to reduce costs and go to prepackaged frozen meals.

That change led to meals on wheels, where 22 churches and civic organizations in the community prepare and deliver hot meals to seniors.

“These (volunteers) are all senior citizens who are retired,” Thornton said. “The average age is 85 to 87 and they purchase, cook and deliver the meals. I find it amazing we have people who are 85 and still serving their community.”

Other programs include a homemaker service that goes into homes and keeps them and hazard free. “When you get old, your vision is deceptive and you think something’s three feet in front of you when it’s right in front of you, so we make sure everything is picked up and safe in the home,” Thornton said.

The Community Council also offers fixed income consumer counseling and an ombudsman program for the county and advocate for the elderly. The ombudsman goes to every nursing home in town at least once a month, and and talks to every patient in every bed.

“We go settle any complaints,” she said. “If we find severe cases of abuse, we have to report it to the attorney general’s office within 24 hours, and he has 48 hours to assign an attorney to investigate it.

“Right now, we do not have any cases before the court, but last year we had five that was severe abuse.

“Without the local funding, we could not purchase federal (food) products,” she said. “The food goes to packaging in Jackson. The meals brought back and prepared here and delivered.”

It was during her time with RSVP in 1975 that Thornton was first diagnosed with cancer.

“I went in the hospital to have a simple lump to be removed and go home, and when I woke up, I had a radical mastectomy, which they don’t do much any more,” she said. “Dr. Briggs Hopson Jr. came into the room and said, ‘you had a fast growing cancer, and that was such a shock.’

“Five years later to the day, I had another mastectomy that was done at Ochsner’s (in New Orleans),” she said.

Between her surgeries, Thornton began working with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery volunteer program to help women cope with their breast cancer experience.

“I traveled with RSVP and met many wonderful people who helped me launch my platform for Reach to Recovery,” she said. “I would go in any state and talk one-on-one with any person who had breast cancer and tell them it was not a stigma like may people thought it was, and there was life after a mastectomy, you did not become less of a person and to look for the positive not the negative.”

She also used her position as chairman for the Mississippi Conference for Women under Governors Kirk Fordice, Ronnie Musgrove and Haley Barbour to discuss prevention and early detection for breast cancer.

“My mother always told me, ‘We’re here to serve, not be served.’ I’ve always believed that,” she said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John