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Dr. Piper Center ‘empowering seniors to create community impact’

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Dec 3, 2020

A center that has had an impact on the Southwest Florida community since the 1970s recently rebranded itself with a new name, website, logo and tagline “empowering seniors to create community impact” to shed a new light on the programs and services it offers.

“We’re thrilled to be able to pay tribute to Dr. Piper and celebrate her personal mission. Her legacy is indivisible from our organization, and our new logo respects her importance in our community. We see a little piece of Dr. Piper every time we look at it,”  Dr. Piper Center Executive Director Nida C. Eluna said in a prepared statement.

Eluna, who has been a part of the Dr. Piper Center for 30 years, said they have never rebranded.

“It seems like this is the best kept secret and we don’t want to be the best kept secret anymore. We want people to know, people to volunteer. There are so many needy people. Serve and give back. They can always give back,” she said. “The board decided maybe it is time. We were so blessed to have some grant money to cover rebranding and change our website.”

Eluna said with the rebranding the center has entered the 21st century, providing a more friendly website.

“Everything is new. We changed the pictures, ambiance of the website. When compared to the old one, this is a modern website and very friendly,” she said. “It’s very interactive. You can apply as a volunteer, or give donations online.”

In addition, the website lists all of the programs with an explanation, as well as how to contact staff, or board members.

“It has all the information that you would like to get from the website. It’s a lot easier that way,” Eluna said.  “We are very excited.”

Another exciting reveal is the Dr. Piper Center’s new logo, which pays tribute to Dr. Piper and her stylish wide-brimmed feathered hat.

“I really liked it because Dr. Ella Piper usually wears a hat. Her time a hat is hot. It gives an opportunity to share about Dr. Ella Piper and what the center is about,” Eluna said.

The center’s colors were also rebranded using violet and coral, allowing everything to blend together.

Although the Dr. Piper Center for Social Services began in 1975, the annual Christmas Celebration was first held by Dr. Ella Mae Piper’s mother, Sarah Williams, in 1915. This year marks the 106th anniversary of the annual Christmas party.

Eluna said although it has been a very challenging year, the celebration will continue on Dec. 25 while observing CDC guidelines, so the children still have the opportunity to receive their gift, a bicycle.

Dr. Ella Piper graduated from Rohrer’s, world-famous institute of Beauty Culture in New York City, in 1915 and moved to Lee County, the city of Fort Myers, and began her own business. Eluna said she graduated a podiatrist, which in her time included massages and hair care.

“She owned the first beauty salon in the city of Fort Myers,” she said, which included three famous customers, Mrs. Henry Ford, Mrs. Thomas Edison and Mrs. Berne Davis.

In addition, Eluna said Dr. Piper was very involved in her community, providing help in building the first high school in the Dunbar area and the first hospital. Her community support also spread to young girls and boys, by helping them go to college.

Dr. Piper then started services for children and the elderly, all through using her own resources to provide programs in the Dunbar area. Eluna said in a time when women were not allowed to own property, Dr. Piper did due to providing necessary services for the community.

Before Dr. Piper died she left her property to the city of Fort Myers with the stipulation that her programs and services continue for the children and elderly. Eluna said in 1975 citizens approached the city of Fort Myers to ask for the use of her residence for those programs and services, and permission was granted, therefore creating the first board of directors of the Dr. Piper Center.

Today the center offers two federally funded programs, and two local programs.

“Annually we provide services to over 700 frail elderly clients and over 500 kids in the community,” she said.

The Senior Companions Program provides assistance to frail elderly clients, such as transportation to medical services, grocery shopping, as well as whatever people need to remain in their own home, Eluna said. Since the program is run by low income volunteers, the volunteer is provided a tax-free stipend of $3 an hour, transportation allowance, when available hot meals, accident and liability insurance, as well as an annual physical exam for serving 20 hours per week.

More than 400 senior volunteers have provided 500,000 hours of assistance to the Senior Companions Program, which has helped frail elderly and adults with disabilities in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Desoto, Hendry and Sarasota counties remain in their homes.

The other federally funded program is Foster Grandparents, which pairs senior volunteers with at risk children. There are more than 150 Foster Grandparents giving more than 110,000 hours of service every year.

Eluna said the Foster Grandparents stay in the classroom for 20 hours a week, so they can really bond with the children. She said for many children, the grandma, or grandpa, is the only constant person in their life.

“When grandparents are assigned to them (the children), they behave and change. There is something about grandma and grandpa that calms them down,” Eluna said. “The grandparents enhance their learning.”

She said when the attitude problem is solved, the learning becomes a lot easier.

“Children just need that one-on-one attention. Sometimes that is all they need,” Eluna said.

The Senior Employment and Empowerment program equips seniors actively seeking employment with the skills for resume building, interviews and online job applications.

The Faith in Action program provides transportation services to frail elderly clients with both a temporary, or long-term transportation barriers. The program pairs the older adults with senior volunteers to provide free rides to such places as doctors and dentist offices, pharmacies and grocery stores.

“All of our programs, they have to pass a background check in order to become volunteers because they are working with the vulnerable population,” Eluna said. “We have very good volunteers. They have such a big heart and do whatever it takes to provide services. Even with COVID-19, because our clients are frail and low income, they call and say we don’t have food. Volunteers lined up in the pantry and then they would deliver the food with social distancing. They knock on the clients door and leave the food on the doorstep, so there is no physical contact.”

In addition, she said during the COVID-19 lockdown, volunteers were not obligated to provide services, but some continued to provide transportation to those who needed dialysis, chemotherapy or a medical procedure that could not be postponed.

For additional information visit www.DrPiperCenter.org, or call 239-332-5346.