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A senior-centered career

Community: Dardeau brings her experience, passion to SCV Senior Center

Posted: September 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Rachelle Dardeau is the new executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. Rachelle Dardeau is the new executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
Rachelle Dardeau is the new executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

Whether she’s meeting clients, working side by side with staff or chatting with volunteers, Rachelle Dardeau, the newly appointed Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center executive director, clearly enjoys her job.

She laughs easily, the smile reaching her big blue eyes, a soft Southern drawl punctuating her speech.
“Some of my greatest joys have been meeting the volunteers and staff here. There can’t be any better anywhere else in the world,” Dardeau said. “They’re passionate, upbeat and encouraging. Everyone is dedicated to doing what’s right and good for the seniors in our community.”

It’s a mission Dardeau understands well. Originally from Ville Platte, La., she started her career in geriatric health care as a psychological associate at the Center for Psychological Resources in Baton Rouge.

In 1995, Dardeau relocated to California, settling in Stevenson Ranch with her son, and began work at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s adult day health care program in Friendly Valley.

“I realized that a lot of the participants had dementia and needed to have programs specific to their level of functioning,” Dardeau said. “I developed programs for those with early, moderate and later stage dementia. I wanted to make sure the residents with dementia could succeed.”

In the beginning of her career, Dardeau worked primarily with children and adults, so serving seniors was new to her.
“I’m just fascinated by brain function, and seniors are such a misunderstood population. I realized it was a privilege and a gift to help seniors feel safe, happy and successful. I was hooked on helping seniors then and there,” she said.
That experience, coupled with her background in psychology and a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on death, dying and grief, landed Dardeau a position as the first regional director for the Alzheimer’s Association, Los Angeles Chapter in 2000. She opened the organization’s greater San Fernando Valley regional office located on the campus of California State University, Northridge.

Dardeau went on to become program director at the Specialized Ambulatory Geriatric Evaluation program at Sherman Oaks Hospital. She also founded Aging & Dementia Consultation, a consulting group that provides dementia program development and community education.

When she heard about the center’s executive director position, Dardeau was excited to throw her hat in the ring.
“I thought, this is where I live and my favorite population to work with,” she said. “It seemed like a perfect combination for my skills, experience and passion.”

Just a little over a week into the job, Dardeau has a clear vision of the center’s future.
“I hope to build on the already strong programs we have, such as the home-delivered meals, the educational opportunities, the handy worker program and supportive services,” she said. “We also have to maintain and increase funding.”
The latter is especially difficult in a recession, Dardeau noted, with many nonprofits in fierce competition for local, state and federal grants.

“There’s only so many dollars out there. There’s a statistic that states the baby boomer generation has 10,000 people turning 65 every day. With that exponential pace, we’re going to have more and more seniors that need help,” she said. “Getting the funding to support that is challenging.”

That’s why every donation, every hour spent volunteering, every act of service adds up. A recent example was the walkway improvement to the social services building donated by Thomas Collier of Saugus, a Boy Scout who donated his time and secured the building materials as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Collier recruited more than 35 friends, fellow Scouts and relatives to complete the extensive construction project in just one day this July.

“That’s something we would have had to pay for,” Dardeau said. “That level of generosity and kindness makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

As she makes her rounds, Dardeau finds people at the center making a big difference in her life.
“Everyone has the most fascinating stories. People come from such varied backgrounds, from all over the world and all walks of life,” she said. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere; there’s so much positive energy here. It’s a place where seniors can come to be engaged in an active social life.”


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