Senior Fellowship

Salvation Army programs for older adults provide entertainment, information and more

May is Older Americans Month, so we’re celebrating The Salvation Army’s senior programming. These programs bring senior citizens together for a few hours once a week to enjoy fellowship, spiritual nourishment, informational and entertaining programs, bingo and lunch.

“Seniors, unfortunately, get left behind. To be able to love on them, encourage them and show them that they’re valued is really a blessing for us to share with them,” said Capt. Patrick Richmond of the Danville Salvation Army, whose senior program meets Tuesdays at 11 a.m.

Senior citizens at the Danville Salvation Army enjoy food at a Christmas program. Salvation Army senior programs allow older adults to gather regularly for fellowship.

Approximately 12-15 people attend the senior program each week at the Danville Salvation Army; all are women except one’s husband. Most are longtime members of the program, said Richmond, who estimates that probably half of them do not attend church at The Salvation Army. Most still live in their own homes, and the program is a way for them to go out weekly and interact with others.

“The program can range from educational to life skills, such as budgeting and personal care. They just had a Kentucky Derby party, and they’ve had season programs, like a snowman party for the winter,” Richmond said. “They’ll also bring in supplies every once in a while to make a craft. For their snowman party, they made snowmen out of ceramic pots that they could take home.”

He noted that the programs for July-September will be planned soon and will include a back-to-school event since many of the seniors are grandparents. “We try to give them opportunities to share these things with their kids.

Worship is also important, Richmond said. Often, he brings his guitar, and they sing older hymns. After that is time for prayer requests.

“They devote easily 10-15 minutes to prayer requests and then praying for them. Either my wife or I will pray for those requests and just let them know their needs and concerns are warranted and they’re cared for in that regard.”

Frances Phillips, the senior citizen program coordinator for the Louisville Salvation Army’s South corps, agreed that the time for prayer requests is important. “We especially say prayers,” she said. “I ask if anybody has anything going on in their family, and they’ll talk about that. They’re just really close-knit, like a family.”

They gather every Wednesday, beginning with Bible study at 9:30 a.m., followed by the week’s program at 10 a.m., which is followed by lunch and bingo.

Programs are planned six months at a time and printed in a pamphlet the seniors receive each week so they know what they’re doing. In addition to holidays, Phillips will use suggestions from the seniors, as well as ideas she finds, to help plan themes.

This month, they started with Derby Day, followed by Mother’s Day and Sock Day. This week is Surprise Surprise, and they end the month with Memorial Day. Sock Day, she explained, was a program looking at different ways to use old socks instead of just throwing them away, and for Surprise Surprise, she’ll pick out a program unannounced to them, so they are surprised when they find out what it is.

For Mother’s Day, The Salvation Army gave the women a gift bag of perfume, makeup and nail polish, in addition to the homemade cards Phillips makes every holiday. “There were so excited about wanting to paint their nails. You wouldn’t think that older people want to paint up, but they still do.”

As for other holidays, she noted that Thanksgiving features a potluck meal (with the turkey provided by The Salvation Army), Christmas is a holiday party where the seniors are free to participate in a gift exchange (with a $5 limit) if they wish, and Easter has seen her bring in her granddaughter’s bunny.

For the program activities, she tries to find things that will be interesting and helpful to the seniors. “They love to solve puzzles, so it could be a word search or crossword puzzle that relates to that program that helps them with their mind. We also do a lot of coloring and little crafts that aren’t too hard that will go along with what the program’s about.”

Women work on Easter crafts during a program at the Louisville South corps’ Senior Club.

As with Danville, Louisville South’s participants, of which there are 10-15 each week, are seniors who live in their own homes, which are in the same neighborhood as the corps’ building. They are women, ranging in age from their 60s to 92, and one woman’s adult son, who is 51 and has Down syndrome.

“We don’t have as many now as when I first started,” said Phillips, who has run the program for 15 years. “A lot of them have passed on. We’ve had some new ones within the last five years, though. I’m trying to invite more people in; I’m working on getting out that the program’s here and available.”

In Johnson City, Salvation Army volunteer Lucy Hagerty shares information about the program with those who ask, but she already has a large group, with 50-60 people attending weekly.

“I give God all the glory for this program,” said Hagerty, who has overseen it for 13 years. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and I’m tickled to death.”

Currently, participants are split about 60-40 in favor of women. They include her regular seniors (some who have been attending the whole time she’s run the program) and some who are mentally handicapped and accompanied by their caretakers from Core Services of Northeast Tennessee.

“They either live on their own in their own house and a caregiver brings them, or they live in a group home,” she said. “My mission statement for this program is that no one is turned away.”

When they come on Wednesdays, many of the seniors begin gathering between 9:30 and 10 a.m. to socialize, though the program does not begin until 10:30 a.m. Hagerty encourages this so they will get the conversations out of their system before the program begins.

East Tennessee State University physical therapy students work a Health Screening for Senior Citizens, held during the senior programming at the Johnson City Salvation Army.

First on the agenda is worship, which includes a devotion and prayer requests. “I have found this is the only time of the week many of these folks hear the word of God person-to-person. You can hear it on TV and it’s better than nothing, but there’s something about the fellowship and hearing the word of God in person from a real person.”

After worship, she shares announcements (including free or nearly free activities happening soon) before beginning the week’s program. Twice a month, two gentlemen come with their guitar to do sing-alongs; the other weeks have programs she has put together that may include speakers, puzzles and/or coloring sheets.

“I have a theme every year,” Hagerty explained. “This year, my theme is Me and Mother Nature. I have done everything from me talking about plants and Mother Earth to having people from the community come in and give talks.”

Thus far this year, topics have included community gardens, butterflies and dragonflies. Hagerty said the response to these programs has been phenomenal.

“These seniors, even the mentally challenged ones, are sitting there spellbound because A) they’re getting shown pretty pictures and told about things to look for when they’re outside, and B) they can hear someone else’s voice besides mine.”

Last year’s theme was Let’s Sing, and the year before that was Once Upon a Time in History, which had two weeks’ worth of programs on the Titanic that the seniors found fascinating. That year and a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle theme have been the two the seniors have been most interested in.

Each week isn’t complete without bingo and lunch. With bingo, they play until all the prizes are gone. “You never clear your card. You can only bingo once, but once the little prizes are all gone, we go into what we call blackout or cover-all, which means you’ve got to have every number on your card covered. I have three big prizes for that.”

Hagerty brings enough prizes for everyone to win. She takes their needs into consideration when purchasing or getting prizes donated. “It’s anything you cannot get with food stamps. You can buy candy and soda pop with food stamps, but you can’t buy shampoo or a bar of soap.”

In the end, Hagerty said, “I want them to think, relax and enjoy themselves. Most of all, I want them to fellowship.”

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