Hometown Heroes: Suzanne Demers fostered teamwork in a crisis

  • Suzanne Demers, the Director of Elder Services at Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack counties, oversees multiple programs, including Meals on Wheels, Service Link, Senior Companion Program and the eight senior centers in Belknap and Merrimack counties Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 12/17/2020 8:52:32 AM
Modified: 12/17/2020 8:52:22 AM

When the pandemic struck, Suzanne Demers went into emergency mode.

“Having worked at the Red Cross, I have disaster under my belt,” said Demers, who is now the Director of Elder Services at Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc. “And my operations manager has a military background, so she and I get ground zero, and when all of this started we hunkered down and went into that mode.”

The rest of her staff noticed, including Jennifer Ho-Sue, a manager at CAP, who nominated Demers to be a Hometown Hero for her continued support of the elderly, and her support of the CAP staff, during the pandemic.

“Suzanne led us to new heights. She allowed us to think outside the box and really come up with some new ideas. … It’s, ‘What do we need to do today to get the help out today,’” Ho-Sue said. “She’s one of those supervisors you see every single day, and if you don’t see her, you hear from her. And she listens to your ideas. Sometimes she’ll take them and sometimes she’ll nix them, but she will take the time to listen.”

Demers oversees multiple programs at the CAP, including Meals on Wheels, Service Link (provides long-term health services), Senior Companion Program and the eight senior centers in Belknap and Merrimack counties. She began integrating the programs by fostering communication and teamwork between them before the pandemic, and that collaboration has proved helpful during the COVID-19 crisis.

“She didn’t merge us, but we went from waving at each other in the hallway to really knowing each other by name and now we can say, you know, ‘I can’t bring this food box out today, is there anyone else in the agency who is going that way and can they bring it?’ She put that kind of stuff in place,” Ho-Sue said.

Michael Tabory, Director of CAP Belknap-Merrimack, has also seen Demers’ integration efforts work at a higher level.

“That’s part of the ‘no wrong door’ approach we’ve been trying to roll out over the last several years,” Tabory said. “Suzanne really implemented that within her programming to make sure all of her programs have enough information to make an informed referral when they are working with a client, and she’s also been reaching out to the other programs to try to do the same.”

During the pandemic, Demers has found other creative ways to keep supporting the elder community and keep her staff safe. For example, the Meals on Wheel drivers deliver frozen meals to limit exposure, but they also call the clients to make sure they get the social interaction that’s such an important part of that program.

“Suzanne has come up with very unique approaches to how do we meet the needs of the elder population during these difficult times,” Tabory said. “She is very dedicated to those senior clients. It’s not just a job for her, it’s a passion.”

Demers has recently been paying special attention to the dozens of grandchildren being raised by their low-income grandparents in the two counties. She raised nearly $8,000 in donations this fall to help with back-to-school items. Currently, she’s trying to help these grandparents with holiday gifts, but the extra demands of the pandemic have slowed that drive. If anyone would like to donate gift cards, they can mail them or drop them off at CAP Belknap-Merrimack at 2 Industrial Park Dr. in Concord.

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