Magazine Features

The Army’s Ministry to Seniors

According to recent census data, eight of the top 11 states with populations having the oldest median age are in the USA Eastern Territory, with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire topping the list. The numbers of senior citizens in the Northeast will also continue to increase in heavily populated urban areas as medical technology helps to extend their lifespans well into their 90s.

“As our population continues to age, the number of seniors continues to get bigger,” said Commissioner William A. Bamford, territorial commander. “Scripture calls us to take care of all people. [Senior citizens] are a segment of society we also have a responsibility to take care of.”

Who are they?

Seniors are grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, dads, cousins, aunts, uncles, mentors, caregivers, surrogate parents, guardians, friends, and even prayer partners. “Young people who serve in the kitchens at our senior camps or as lifeguards at the pools, come in contact with seniors all the time,” said Bamford. “They’ve driven seniors from place to place in cars, vans, and even on hay rides.”

Typically, seniors tend to get tucked away, out of sight, until a major disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or the most recent Hurricane Harvey hits and exposes their plight. When such calamities happen, “Breaking News” interrupts regularly scheduled programing to suddenly bring us photos and videos of infirmed seniors sitting in beds or wheelchairs, waist–deep in muddy flood water. They need to be rescued or given a new supply of medications. Such images abound on TV and on social media.

However, seniors face emergencies everyday that are off the media radar and those of most people.

“I continue to hear from [seniors] that it’s a challenge to continue to meet the day–to–day, month–to–month obligations as they grow older,” said Bamford. “They’re living on fixed incomes.

“When we go to a corps feeding program, we see a lot of seniors there. Yes, there are some young adults there who are finding life a challenge, but we are also seeing more seniors.

“Why are they there? Because they can’t find the means to help themselves. They don’t have the means to put a meal on the table in their own homes.”

In addition to the challenge of meeting practical needs, seniors also combat loneliness and a sense of separation from mainstream social and recreational life.

“They’re looking for fellowship,” said Bamford. “Only some are attuned to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. So how do we continue to connect with the others? Many of them have asked us to communicate via regular mail.

“We must make sure communication with them is still there and that they know we care about them and are keeping them informed about things that are going on that they need to be a part of. Perspectives may differ between retired officers or seniors we serve in the community, but their core needs remain the same.”

What the Army is doing

The Salvation Army is helping to meet some of those practical, social, recreational, and spiritual needs of seniors. From providing affordable housing for them in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Harlem, N.Y., to offering state–of–the–art recreational facilities such as the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia, the Army is making ministry to seniors a priority.

“We have great ministry opportunities,” said Bamford. “We have a number of corps that do senior programming. We have housing programs that are wonderful, where we can minister to people and look after them.

“Through our senior programming, we also have an opportunity to connect with their families. That’s an additional piece that is so important.

“Where can we begin to look and see opportunities to establish new programs such as what’s happening in Cincinnati and Philadelphia? There are new opportunities sitting right in front of us.

“I would really love for someone to step up and say for their communities, ‘Yes, we’d like to look at this possibility.’ A housing program associated with the corps; build a facility and bridge the gap between housing and ministry. The resources are there.

“HUD 202 project resources are available to us. Over the long haul, there’s no added financial burden on the Army because of the way the project is structured. There’s nothing we need to add to putting up those buildings.”

Close to home

Reflecting on his family relationships, Bamford sees the need to help seniors realize such housing as beneficial to them regarding their evolving lifestyles. “And we can be supportive to them.

“Taking care of a home, paying for maintenance and medications, and even remaining mobile inside the home, are growing challenges for seniors that a Salvation Army family facility can meet,” he said. “That is something that has personally touched my heart and my wife’s heart.”

When the Commissioners Bamford served in Chile, they saw firsthand what happens when seniors, in need of assistance, go longing for such essential help. “We were just in Cuba where similar problems exist,” said Bamford. “We saw the Army there taking care of people who could not take care of themselves.”

Commissioner Bamford is optimistic regarding the integration of the Army’s ministry to seniors into its Whole World Mobilizing and 20/20 Vision campaigns. “These are more than campaigns—they’re part of who we are,” he said. “Visiting nursing homes or assisted living facilities can be part of our mobilization. Building homes for seniors in need is also part of our 20/20 Vision for the future.

“We have a wealth of opportunity and this is another piece the Lord has given to us!”

by Warren L. Maye