BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
In a lot of cases, when couples with children divorce, the maternal and paternal grandmothers either, never interact again, or argue amongst themselves about who gets to spend time with the grandchildren. But in Billie Johnson’s case, President/CEO of the Area Office on Aging, her grandmothers, in segregated Kentucky, moved in together, and raised her, and her brother.
“I can truly say that my desire and my calling to protect the rights of older citizens started when my grandmothers raised me,” she told The Toledo Journal.
“In fact,” Mrs. Johnson said, “I really didn’t hang around with too many people my own age,” she said.
While growing up, Mrs. Johnson could see that older citizens had very few agencies fighting for their rights. In areas such as employment, and housing, older citizens were discriminated against, and had no entity fighting for their rights.
In 1974, being a grant writer, Mrs. Johnson decided to do what she could to help protect, and champion the rights of older citizens when she wrote a grant to establish an agency that would help them. When the grant was approved for the Area Office on Aging, it was a part of Toledo’s United Way. In 1980, the Area Office on Aging was a separate entity, with its own 501c3 status.
“When the agency was first established, there were only four employees, and we had a yearly budget of $200,000. Now we have 155 employees, and an annual budget of $35 million, which we use to service 10 counties,” Mrs. Johnson said.
The Area Office on Aging not only advocates for older citizens, they help provide healthy food options, locate housing, connects them to doctors, lawyers or other professionals who strive to make their lives better.
“This is my passion; helping older citizens,” Mrs. Johnson said.
She encourages young people, especially minorities, to get involved in fields related to older citizens, such as gerontology, which is the study of aging, and problems related to aging.
“There are a lot of African American older citizens, and we should have people who look like them in the field. We really want more young people to take up gerontology. We even have a scholarship at Lourdes University, J.L. Rawlings Scholarship, for any student going into that field; that’s how serious it is to us,” Mrs. Johnson said.