Through the years I’ve had the great privilege to work with thousands of elders and families as my professional career in senior care began in educating families and faith communities. I will never forget one of my earliest conversations with a couple who had attended a caregiver support group in which I was facilitating. Emotionally, they shared how their parents had served faithfully in their church for over 40 years and now that they were homebound, the they felt as if they had been forgotten. This tugged at my heart, as I remembered how vitally important the church was to my own aging parents and how much that care and compassion for our parents comforted us as adult children.
Members are aging quickly in virtually every faith community. Adult children and their parents are struggling with the emotional, physical and spiritual toll that illness and the complications of aging creates. As federal and state resources for the aging decline rapidly, needs are increasing even faster. The cost of long term care across the spectrum is out of reach for a growing number of Americans. Where does this leave the church and it’s role in the societal challenges facing all of us in our fast aging world?
I’ve witnessed how incredibly effective it can be when faith communities, local agencies, non-profits, service providers and volunteers come together to meet urgent needs of homebound elders, especially those needing food, housing, medical equipment, and services. Support groups for caregivers, meal delivery, in-home and nursing home visitations, companion ministries are all vital outreach efforts that can make an incredible difference in the lives of our elders, their families and our communities.
Strong leadership, education and champion volunteers are the thread of success in faith communities stepping up to meet these complex needs. When implemented successfully, everyone wins. Active retirees find purpose, the younger generations of the church experience giving in action, and the church becomes an integral part within their surrounding community that helps agencies that desperately need more assistance. Senior care providers can provide knowledge and assistance in navigating services and supporting caregiver programs.
I have provided caregiver education and support services to one church in particular for many years. They took on the challenge over 8 years ago to start a day respite program for those living with dementia. Thousands of volunteer hours from dedicated, passionate people have poured their lives into providing this no cost service to members of the community and their care givers. It is one of the most successful respite ministries that I have seen. I recently was with this group and was so moved by their consistent dedication. When I asked what kept them going, it was without hesitation that they pointed to their group of elders and replied ” they need us but not near as much as we need them. They brighten our days and give us back so much more than we are able to give to them.”
A perfect example of faith in action…
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute whose mission is to provide worldwide aging education and training that changes attitudes and actions to improve the lives of our elders. She remains passionately dedicated to helping faith communities transform their aging adult and caregiver ministries through leadership training.