Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. By 2050 the number of Americans age 65 or older could soar to 80 million, compared with 33.2 million in 1994, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The rise is due to the aging of the "baby boom" generation accompanied by advances in nutrition and medical care and decreases in fertility and mortality rates.
Recognizing that people not only are living longer, but they are enjoying greater health and vitality, The Salvation Army provides boundless occasions for older adults to continue contributing to their communities long into their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Hundreds of older adults support Salvation Army programs as volunteers or paid staff, bringing the invaluable resource of experience and perspective. In many locations, The Salvation Army links the generations through intergenerational activities, allowing older adults opportunities to encourage, teach, nurture and mentor children in day care, preschool or other children's programs. They also fill many other roles--creating crafts for fundraisers; giving friendship and practical assistance to their peers by visiting or phoning the homebound; distributing groceries from Salvation Army food pantries; transporting other seniors to doctors, hospitals and Salvation Army activities; and a host of other services.
Across the country The Salvation Army hosts weekly or monthly older adult clubs offering socialization, entertainment and spiritual encouragement. Many locations also organize educational workshops in financial planning, pre-retirement counseling and other areas of interest to seniors. Many areas hold annual rallies or summer camps, allowing older adults to meet with others for one-day, weekend or week-long outings. Filling the need for an affordable get-away, rallies and summer camps often result in long-lasting friendships.
The Salvation Army operates dozens of older adult housing complexes across the country with thousands of affordably-priced independent living units for low-income and disabled older adults. In addition, Salvation Army facilities provide such services as adult day care, on-site hot lunch programs for those who want to share a meal with others, and hot meal home delivery for the homebound. Through partnerships with local hospitals and clinics, many Salvation Army centers offer health care services such as blood pressure monitoring, cholesterol and blood sugar testing, exercise and nutrition classes, and community health fairs. Some Salvation Army units also collaborate with other agencies to help older adults prepare income tax returns and other government forms.
Tens of thousands of nursing home residents and shut-ins receive visits from Salvation Army officers (clergy) and volunteers each year. Called the League of Mercy, these Salvation Army volunteers often bring small gifts, from toiletries or stationery to magazines or Bibles. But what really makes their visit worth waiting for is their hugs, smiles, laughter and listening, expressions of their Christian love. They even offer to pray with residents about their concerns. Quiet retirement homes are transformed into places of celebration when League of Mercy workers bring musical instruments for a sing-along, filling the hallways with happy sounds.
Some nursing homes welcome League of Mercy volunteers for weekly meetings which include singing, crafts, discussion groups and Christian worship, reflecting the types of programs held in Salvation Army corps community centers. Residents' recover the joy of life as their world enlarges through contact with new people and pastimes. During the Easter and Christmas seasons League of Mercy volunteers organize holiday activities, accompanied by a gift so everyone feels remembered, valued, cared about and connected with the seasonal celebration. That's the goal of all Salvation Army programs for older adults?affirming, encouraging and honoring people, changing one life at a time. If you would like to participate in or support our older adult ministries, contact your local Salvation Army.