Jobyna Nickum named Professional of the Year by Washington State Association of Senior Centers.

Jobyna Nickum was recently honored as Professional of the Year by her peers in the Washington State Association of Senior Centers.  - Photo by Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald
Jobyna Nickum was recently honored as Professional of the Year by her peers in the Washington State Association of Senior Centers.
— image credit: Photo by Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

Repeatedly shunning attempts to stand alone in the spotlight, Jobyna Nickum prefers to talk about the community’s growing population of senior citizens – both the struggles they face and the opportunities for help.

She deftly turns questions back to her 22-year relationship with the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center and the substantial changes that have evolved during her two-plus decades as executive director.

But others are willing to recognize Nickum’s dedication to the area’s graying population. She was recently honored as Professional of the Year by her peers in the Washington State Association of Senior Centers. The award was announced May 22 during the organization’s annual convention in Spokane. She was nominated by her staff, something she didn’t learn until returning home and diving back into her work.

The honor left Nickum speechless – a rare condition, she admits. “All of a sudden, I didn’t know a single word in the English language,” she said.

And while the words caught in her throat, the tears flowed – also out of character.

A week later, seated in her cozy office at the Cole Street center, Nickum did her best to deflect attention away from herself and focus instead on the work done within the city-owned and city-supported walls.

In particular, she notes the significant changes that have shaped her industry during the past couple of decades. At the forefront is a huge wave of people racing past retirement age. Not only is there a crush of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) but the Boomers’ parents are still active as well. It’s not uncommon, Nickum said, to have two generations from the same family using the center’s varied resources.

A professed “geek” when it comes to senior statistics, Nickum points to the most recent census and notes the three fastest-growing segments of the American population are Baby Boomers, those identified as 85-plus and those who are 100-plus. The numbers also show more seniors than ever caring for youngsters – their grandchildren – due to varying family circumstances.

Crunching numbers to a neighborhood level, Nickum notes that Enumclaw has a greater proportion of senior citizens than elsewhere. Throughout the nation, folks 65 and older make up 13.3 percent of the population; in King County, the number drops to 10.9 percent. But in Enumclaw, 14.1 percent of city residents have hit that magic number.

Aside from growing demand for services, the senior services industry has taken a hit from the nation’s shaky economy. It’s no different in Enumclaw, Nickum said, where growing demands have been met by shrinking resources. Because of budget constraints, senior center staff has been reduced and hours of operation were curtailed.

Nickum remains optimistic, however, certain that the city supports efforts on behalf of its seniors and that funding will be restored once the economy turns around.

Nickum takes great joy in meeting seniors who were initially hesitant to stop by the center, only to become dedicated attendees. She knows there can be a stigma attached to such places; senior centers are thought by many to be places where “old folks” hang out.

Nickum simply asks, which is better – sitting at home watching a Bonanza episode for the 100th time or taking advantage of the center where there are offerings like field trips to Wolf Haven, Wii bowling or Pilates classes. In nearly every case, she said, those who are initially reluctant wind up tellling her how the center enriches their lives.

In the end, when talk circles back to personal accolades like the Professional of the Year award she received in Spokane, Nickum allows there is a bright side. If talking about her award convinces one senior citizen to join the local center, it’s worth it.

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