Day centers combat social isolation among seniors

Father Timothy Byerley, pastor of Saint Peter Parish, Merchantville, and Bobbie Bradley, the Senior Ministry Director, stand at the doors of the Senior Ministry building. The Diocese of Camden, through VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, supports efforts of local parishes to develop ministries that bring the elderly members of the community together for socialization and spiritual enrichment.

As well noted in most health and wellness literature on aging, withdrawal into social isolation happens very frequently as one ages and suffers any infirmities that cause limitations to their mobility or ability to care for themselves. Isolation is a major cause of poor health and leads to profound loneliness and depression. Such isolation from their social circles occurs often as a result of the death of a spouse or close friend. And often their friends are no longer themselves well enough to engage in social activity beyond their own homes. Isolation breeds further isolation among peers. The older adult who falls prey to such isolation often becomes totally dependent on family members and/or other caregivers to provide the social engagement needed for a continued healthy mind and spirit.

But in many cases, that level of social engagement is often not sufficient. Work, school, chores and various recreational and social activities needed by family members leave the elder person often alone. Caregivers may often only have enough time to deal with the essentials of caregiving to assure physical well-being and may not have the time for purely social engagement in conversation and/or recreational activity.

One way to combat this dilemma of isolation or limited social engagement is through programs and places dedicated to daily socialization activities for seniors. Senior Social Day Centers provide opportunity for seniors to come to a place where they can socialize with peers. The common ground of their generation often sparks conversation that revitalizes the mind and spirit to recall days and events long past that can contribute to their hopes and dreams of days yet to come. Sharing accounts of common experiences through common times allows them to relive through time and provides a psychological and spiritual boost to their minds and souls. Such day centers often as well provide good meals to assure a sound diet and adequate nutrition. In addition, they provide an opportunity for some mild physical activity and exercise to keep joints and muscles flexible and strong and maintain a good physical sense of being. Recreational activity and/or spiritual exercises (within religious organizations) can provide the right degree of fun, mental activity and spiritual well-being.

The Diocese of Camden, through VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, supports efforts of local parishes to develop ministries that bring the elderly members of the community together for socialization and spiritual enrichment. One such parish, Saint Peter’s in Merchantville, has been a model of such care for the past seven years. Developed under the leadership of former pastor Father Anthony Manuppella and the drive and enthusiasm of Bobbie Bradley, the Ministry Director, the Senior Ministry of Saint Peter’s has been a wonderful success. The center is a daily oasis for older adults who seek the social interaction that breaks the chains of isolation within their lives. There they are fed in body, mind and spirit in their daily routine of meals, recreation, exercise and prayer. Bobbie and her staff of 20 volunteers see to it that each person is well cared for and engages in the joyful spirit of the center each day. With a creative agenda of daily activities, the center participants are always introduced to new and exciting activities each day.

As the new parish pastor, Father Timothy Byerley has embraced the success of this ministry in his continued support. Father Byerley sees the wonderful fruits of this ministry each day in the synergy that it creates within the parish. He notes that their Senior Ministry creates a high degree of involvement in parish life for the seniors it serves, and it generates a great spirit of volunteerism within the parish to assist in the program.

“The Senior Ministry,” he adds, “presents a very positive image of church to the families of those being served and to the community as a whole.” Father Byerley attributes the ongoing success of the Saint Peter Senior Ministry totally to the efforts of Bobbie who by her deep compassion and enthusiasm to care for the elderly, has led and grown this ministry of love and mercy so tremendously. In turn, Bobbie humbly sees her role only as an agent of God, who she says, “is the real and only reason that the ministry continues to flourish and brings a sense of peace and joy into the lives of so many people.”

Father Byerley notes he is grateful for the ongoing financial assistance that is offered through VITALity to help defray costs associated with the center operations. This year the ministry is on target to have over 6,000 visits to the Senior Center.

In efforts to see the growth of Senior Center Ministries throughout the Diocese, VITALity has helped spread the word of the success of Saint Peter’s to other parishes. And, beginning on Sept. 19, Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro will be launching the opening of their Senior Day Center, The Renaissance Center, led by the vision of Msgr. Louis Marucci and overseen by director Therese Hemschoot. The center will be open two days a week to begin in the old church hall. (As the enrollment grows and upon completion of plans to build out space exclusively for a Senior Day Center, the program will eventually expand to five days a week.) Like Saint Peter’s, Saint Andrew’s will bring seniors together and provide a similar daily schedule of activities to include breakfast and hot lunch, along with physical exercise, socialization, recreational pursuits and prayer. The program is open to all members of the community.

The Catholic Church of South Jersey is on the forefront of Senior Care and works to provide services that can enhance the life of our most vulnerable citizens. All, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation, are welcome to be part of this effort.

For more information call VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services at 1-888-26VITALity (1-888-268-4825), and we’ll provide information that your parish may need to explore the opportunity to bring a greater fullness of life to those elderly members who may be trapped within the grips of social isolation.

Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director of VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.