Laguna Seniors president brings leadership track record, eyes 50-plus age group

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Renae Hinchey, president of the Laguna Beach Seniors Board of Directors, in the library at the Community and Susi Q Senior Center on Tuesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

A former general manager of the Laguna Beach County Water District has been appointed president of the Laguna Beach Seniors, the storied nonprofit that offers wellness and educational services to residents over 50 years old.

Renae Hinchey, 72, of Laguna Niguel brings 19 years of leadership experience as the chief executive of the agency that provides water services to 25,000 people living in portions of Laguna Beach, a portion of Crystal Cove State Park, and unincorporated Emerald Bay.

She’ll continue working closely with Nadia Babayi, executive director of Laguna Beach Seniors, who oversees a staff of five employees, about 20 independent contractors, and 65 volunteers.

“Even though I’m retired I still have other interests, and this is one of my interests, and basically continuing to be a part of the community was important to me. For me, I’ve always been a worker. I’ve always kept very busy my whole life and you don’t just stop doing that if you’re that kind of person.”

Among the priorities for her tenure is to reach out to a larger swath of the community, educating people there are services and programs that are appealing to a much younger, active demographic.

“I would like to attract a broader audience and bring them here because some of the classes we have… I wouldn’t say they’re just for older people,” Hinchey said.

Hinchey’s experience moving both of her parents into an assisted-living facility and serving as their caregiver helped propel her interest in being of service to older people.

This passion may be needed more than ever in a city where 23.9% of the population is 65 years and older, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Data. As many Laguna Beach residents choose to age in their own homes, Laguna Beach Seniors will continue its track record as a crucial community resource, Hinchey said.

Babayi led the nonprofit to move over 60 programs and classes online after the pandemic forced the closure of the Community and Susi Q Senior Center and all other city-owned buildings in March 2020.

“We were very diligent in continuing to serve the community when COVID-19 hit two years ago,” Hinchey said. “Within a week or two of the shut-down, we developed and implemented a plan to make the most efficient use of technology to reach the community.”

Four to five volunteers continue to help with a technology troubleshooting drop-in center for seniors on Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. The Assistance League of Laguna Beach donated the funds for 14 iPads for low-income seniors, many of whom live at the Vista Aliso senior community. Through these devices, seniors were able to connect with caseworkers who help them secure meals, healthcare, transportation, counseling, legal, and other senior-related services. They can also virtually attend recreational meetings through Zoom.

Babayi recalled pairing an Aliso Vista resident who only spoke Farsi with an iPad during the pandemic’s early months. The newly-found access to Persian television and radio dramatically changed her quality of life during an isolating quarantine.

Another essential element of the nonprofit’s operation is providing free behavioral health care to seniors. Four contracted licensed clinical social workers to offer about 400 sessions annually, Babayi said. The grant-supported program was among the services that temporarily transitioned many seniors to virtual appointments due to COVID-19. In some cases, counselors met with technologically-challenged patients on the Senior Center’s patio.

Laguna Beach Seniors also continues to implement Lifelong Laguna, a home maintenance network supporting seniors on a limited income to repair and make minor home repairs so they can age in place rather than feeling forced to relocate or live in unsafe conditions. Laguna Beach and Habitat for Humanity Orange County are also partners in this program.

Water Commissioner Deborah Neev worked closely with Hinchey during her time with the water district. Hinchey maintained an office culture where anyone could walk into her office—whether they were a member of the public, an entry-level employee, or a senior manager.

“She’s a great writer and will work shoulder-to-shoulder with staff,” Neev said. “As far as leading, I think she’ll be collaborative, which is important because there’s a lot of personalities on boards.”

In the coming months, community members can expect a refreshed lagunaseniors.org with a more intuitive interface for finding and booking classes and other programs.

“The truth is there is a stigma with saying you’re a senior. Nobody wants to admit they’re a senior. I don’t want to admit I’m a senior—that’s for sure. So I want to try to overcome that stigma,” she said.

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