SHERIDAN — You wouldn’t immediately conclude that Michelle Keller is a bridge builder when you first meet her. But she is. Tongue River Valley resident Keller has joined the Sheridan Senior Center team. Her objective? To increase community awareness of what services are available for older residents to maintain independent living in their homes.

For more than 20 years, the Senior Center has served congregate meals and home-delivered meals to TRV older residents as well as provided in-home services and transportation. But Carmen Rideout, executive director for the Senior Center, believes that the awareness among the community could be strengthened.

Staff members Dawn Maedche and Nancy Dearcorn oversee the center’s meals program and provide transportation. Recent staff addition Robin Ruff, a certified nursing assistant, provides housekeeping and personal care for qualified older residents and respite if called upon to do so through the center’s Family Caregiver Services. During the past year, VISTA Karen Walters has worked to build volunteer capacity for Senior Center services in the TRV communities.

“Each of these staff members are focused on providing the meals, or the rides, or the in-home services or developing volunteers,” said Janet Korpela, director of Help at Home services. “But each person reports to their respective program directors. For example, Robin reports to me.”

“The missing link for us is to have one central person to pull it all together,” Rideout said. “It came down to funding to help us keep continual communication with the communities we serve.”

The towns of Ranchester and Dayton have supported the operations of senior services by allocating a portion of their Optional One-Cent Sales Tax funding to the Senior Center. But the resource to add someone to pull it together wasn’t there.

But that obstacle has now dissipated with a generous donation to develop services for seniors in the valley.

With this support, enter Michelle Keller. Keller was hired for the newly created position of Tongue River Valley program coordinator. Her mission is to be sure TRV residents know what services from the Senior Center are available to them and how to connect to them.

“I’ll be looking for people who may benefit while at home and offering services we can do in the valley,” Keller said.

Keller, a Ranchester resident and mother of five children in the elementary, middle and high schools in Tongue River, is the bridge from the Sheridan-based Senior Center to her communities.

“I love the Tongue River and am looking forward to working in the community I live in,” Keller said.

Keller is ready to get to work. She has already spent one week in Sheridan in an overview of Senior Center services. She visited each program, delivered meals and rode the mini-bus.

“During my week at the Senior ,” said Keller said, “I saw the high level of energy and desire the staff has for caring for people. It’s a very caring environment. There’s a lot more to it than you would see on the surface at the Senior Center.”

With a degree in communications and a background working for various community organizations in her home state of Minnesota, Keller has begun to formulate her game plan.

“First, I want to touch base with the elders already connected through meals at the TRVCC and home-delivered meals,” said Keller. “Then look for opportunities to connect through events.”

In addition to working with Senior Center program directors and their staff in the valley, Keller will also be collaborating with Tongue River Valley Community Center Executive Director Erin Kilbride.

In her position as the TRV program coordinator, Keller will report directly to Rideout.

Does Keller have one take-away so far in her new position?

“One take-away is how the Senior Center staff really has a sense of community and a desire to serve whatever needs are out there,” Keller said. “The staff is always looking for new and better ways to meet needs to the community.”

Yes, Keller is a bridge-builder.