New director leads agency aimed at serving older adults – Daily Inter Lake

Growing up, Carla Dyment had a wonderful relationship with her grandparents.

She recalls drinking lemon-lime soda while playing cards with her grandfather who, she says with a laugh, always cheated, and helping her grandmother in her garden.

“I lived next to them through my whole adolescence,” she said. “They provided a source of stability that was its own thing in my life.”

Dyment says that influence is a large reason she was drawn to working at the Flathead County Agency on Aging, which provides support services for those age 60 and older and their caregivers. She recently took over as director of the agency after serving as its aging services program manager for a year.

“I feel like I am honoring my grandparents by working in a field that focuses on older adults,” Dyment said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with older adults. They’ve been my mentors, my friends, my family — I wouldn’t be who I am without those relationships with older adults.”

Dyment, whose maiden name is Gunderson, grew up in Bigfork. She moved away from the Flathead Valley working for a few years in print media and product marketing, but most of her background has been in youth and family ministry working in churches as a student ministries and family pastor. She also taught at George Fox University in Oregon.

Through her work in ministry, Dyment focused on connecting the youth she was serving with older adults. It’s a concept that serves her well in her new role and one she’d like to expand even further with the Agency on Aging.

“We focused on intergenerational connections and partnering with other nonprofits for youth to serve and volunteer,” she said. “We often silo the generations, into schools and businesses and retirement homes. It’s really easy to become disconnected and connecting is my mission — whether that’s been in a ministry context or now here [at Agency on Aging.]”

LAST YEAR Dyment returned home to ensure that she and her daughter would spend more time with her parents and other family members. Now her daughter is building that relationship with her grandparents, playing basketball with her grandfather and baking with her grandmother.

“I really began to want that experience for my own daughter,” she said. “To experience growing up with daily grandparent support and for me to be more involved in my parents’ lives.”

Her work experience and life experience have placed Dyment in a unique position to create connections between generations and think about the importance of all ages supporting each other. She says some of the first friendships she formed upon returning were with two men in their late 70s while they were all out walking their dogs.

“The more that we can connect to each other, especially across different ages, we learn different things,” she said.

THE FORMER Agency on Aging director Lisa Sheppard had overseen the department since 2013 before leaving recently for a job as the CEO of Missoula Aging Services.

Dyment says she wants to build on the legacy created by Sheppard and others at AOA. She says she believes there’s work to be done for the most vulnerable older adults in the community.

“I wanted to be a part of joining others in continuing to build a future in which we can age with dignity,” she said. “We all need to be asking ourselves what we want the future to look like for ourselves, and our loved ones, when we’re 60, 70, or 100 years old. It helps us to see what is working now, what isn’t and what we should do about it.”

The focus remains on the sustainability of the agency’s programs, such as its Meals on Wheels program, family caregiver support, benefits counseling, in-home services, advocacy for residents in assisted living and nursing homes, veterans directed care program and connecting older adults and their caregivers to community resources.

The agency is set to participate in a statewide needs assessment in March that will include surveys and focus groups to assess how older adults’ needs are changing. Dyment says that will be an opportunity to look at ways to better serve a growing senior population.

“I’m looking forward to getting that feedback to look at what are the needs and what’s changed for people,” she said. “As community needs change, those are things we need to pay attention to collectively to identify problems and find creative solutions.”

Features editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com