Becky Yanni is the executive director of the St. Johns County Council on Aging (COA).
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
I grew up here in North Florida. Most of my working life was spent in the hospitality business as co-owner and operator of a 120-room motel and restaurant in St Augustine. When we sold the motel in 2004, I had a real estate business for a few years. It was in this role that I met the Council on Aging volunteer manager and first became aware of COA.
What then inspired you to work in the field?
I started volunteering at Council on Aging in 2005 and was so impressed with the mission and generous scope of the work of this agency. It really opened my eyes to both the needs and the possibilities in aging services. I meet so many older people who have great stories, great character and great attitudes. I am constantly inspired by the people we serve and the people we work with.
What are you most excited about right now with COA?
I am excited about helping families who are dealing with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to lead their best possible lives. We offer so many programs to help, including caregiver support, our unique and innovative Integrative Memory Enhancement Program (IMEP), Community Caregiving, Sunshine Center Adult Day Care and more. All of these programs emphasize respect and compassion for the individuals who are participating.
What’s one thing people may not know about COA and its offerings?
COA serves all older adults in our community. The newly retired or newly transplanted folks looking for opportunities to grow, learn, try new things and engage with others will find our Lifelong Learning program has a great variety of offerings — art, dance, writing and language classes to name a few. And we have a large volunteer corps — over 700 volunteers — who help us carry out our mission, doing everything from delivering meals to homebound elders, to making minor home repairs or lawn maintenance, teaching Zumba and offering their talents in administrative tasks, photography and more.
What’s your vision for the future of the organization?
COA has been helping older adults live with independence, dignity, respect and inclusion for 45 years. I want to see us continue that mission with expanded programs and opportunities throughout the county to accommodate the changing needs of the rapidly growing population.
I would also like to see COA lead the fight against ageism. I want to see us change the conversation about what aging means, and what it doesn’t. We need to embrace the idea that aging is not a disease to be cured or a problem to be solved. Aging is living.
What do you enjoy most about living in this area?
The beautiful natural environment and the friendly relaxed attitude of the people who live here.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have always loved to read from the time I was a young girl, and I always have a book going — sometimes one on my phone, too.
I also love to get out and enjoy the outdoors, and St Johns County is a wonderful place to do that. Whether I am running, biking, kayaking or just taking a walk with my dog, Bonnie, it’s good to be out in nature.
Edited by Jon Blauvelt