Growing old presents a host of challenges for those who want to maintain their independence.

Valley Senior Services has quietly lent a helping hand to the metro area’s senior population for half a century. It helps out in a variety of ways.

The organization, a program of the Fargo Park District, delivers Meals on Wheels to more than 1,400 homebound seniors every day in its six-county service area in southeast North Dakota.

It operates five senior centers and provides community meals at nine sites in Fargo, four in West Fargo and four in rural Cass County. It also provides transportation for seniors throughout the metro area and provides access to health care at several sites.

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It all started 50 years ago, in 1971, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which also brought Medicare and the Older American Act. Since its founding, Valley Senior Services has provided more than 10 million meals and more than two million rides.

In its first year, Valley Senior Services served 21,254 meals. By last year, that number had mushroomed to 322,316, a 15-fold increase.

All those meals were delivered by an army of volunteers. The meals became a nutritional lifeline during the pandemic, when demand jumped 15%.

Valley Senior Services’ mission is carried out by 120 employees, most of them part-time. One person has stood out in the history of the program: Brian Arett, who has been director of Valley Senior Services for 32 years and served earlier in a variety of capacities for 10 years.

His track record of achievement speaks for itself. Arett gets things done and makes things happen. He’s one of those people who forms the glue that bonds the community.

As the population continues to gray, the importance of Valley Senior Services will continue to grow. More than one in 10 Fargo residents — 11.9% — is 65 and over.

The next 50 years of Valley Senior Services will be full of milestones in helping our seniors maintain their independence.