Community Social Programs
Community social programs
Community social programs cover a wide range of programs or activities intended to help seniors beyond those provided by the market or for-profit institutions. Social programs for seniors may be sponsored by federal or state governments with branches or offices at the local community level, or they may be local programs run by cities or towns themselves. In some cases religious, fraternal, or service organizations like the Lions Clubs or Knights of Columbus organize programs to benefit seniors; the Lions Clubs in particular are known for their work in hearing and vision care programs and assistance to the blind.
Community social programs for seniors usually fit under one of the following categories.
Hands-on assistance with activities of daily living
Social programs of this type are intended to help seniors who need some assistance with food preparation, transportation, or household chores maintain their independence . Meals on Wheels is an example of this type of community social program, as are chore services offered by local nonprofit groups. Chore service programs are often staffed by volunteers who do snow shoveling and other small repair jobs for the elderly, such as putting up storm windows or installing grab bars in the shower. The senior may be asked to pay for any materials needed, but the labor is often free or charged according to a sliding scale.
Transportation services—usually small vans or buses—are another type of community program offered in many cities. In many cases the vans are wheelchair-accessible. Transportation services for seniors may operate on an on-call basis to take individual seniors to medical or other door-to-door appointments, while others take groups of seniors at appointed times to shopping centers or supermarkets. Many community transportation services are free, although some charge a minimal fee to cover the cost of gasoline.
Information and referral services
These types of community services help seniors with financial, legal, or health care system issues. As the health care system and government institutions become more complex and hard to navigate, many seniors need help with such tasks as filing taxes, making wills, arranging for household help, or finding their way through the maze of regulations involving Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits. Information and referral services also help seniors locate resources in the local community, such as the transportation, food, and chore services described above. These services may be located in senior centers, public libraries, town halls, or other municipal office buildings.
Some of these services help with job networking, referring seniors who are in good health and looking for part-time employment to potential employers. Others, such as the Experience Works program, go a step further and offer job training and help with resumé writing to low-income seniors who want to continue working and break through the barriers to employment that may have held them back when they were younger. Experience Works is one of 13 national organizations that together operate the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a federal program that provides employment and service opportunities to 100,000 seniors across the United States as of 2008.
Companionship and fellowship
Many communities and local churches or synagogues sponsor senior centers where older adults can gather for companionship as well as physical exercise and other activities. Although senior centers in the 1960s and 1970s were primarily social clubs, the aging of the baby boomer generation has led to a wider range of activities offered. Many senior centers have grown into large free-standing buildings offering everything from educational courses, language classes, field trips, game nights, and book discussion clubs to adult day care , yoga and t'ai chi classes, medical screening, nutritional information, and vocational counseling.
There are also many volunteer organizations related to religious institutions or local schools and colleges that recruit and train members to visit homebound seniors and relieve their loneliness. In some cases these visitation programs lead to the formation of long-term friendships between the senior and his or her visitor.
There are a growing number of organizations that offer seniors opportunities to serve others. The wisdom and life experience that many seniors have acquired is a valuable resource to the larger society. A national organization that offers volunteer opportunities to seniors 55 years of age and older is the Senior Corps, authorized under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973. The Senior Corps is the umbrella organization for three programs, the Foster Grandparents Program, which began in 1965; the Senior Companions Program, which began in 1968, and RSVP, which is a more varied program in which senior volunteers can do everything from helping small businesses get started to assisting with disaster relief to planting community gardens. All three programs provide orientation and on-the-job training; the Foster Grandparents program provides insurance coverage and a modest stipend to volunteers caring for or tutoring neglected or educationally disadvantaged children.
There is little debate about the many benefits that community social programs offer, not only in providing hands-on help to seniors in need, but also in keeping seniors involved in the life of their local community and less vulnerable to social isolation . The many gifts and talents that older adults have to offer are a resource for children and younger adults, many of whom need mentoring and companionship too. In a period of history in which American society seems to be increasingly divided into racial, gender, or socioeconomic groupings, community programs that help to break down age-related barriers may soften the other divisions as well.
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Administration on Aging (AoA), One Massachusetts Ave-nue, Washington, DC, 20201, (202) 619–0724, [email protected], http://www.aoa.gov/index.asp.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 601 E Street NW, Washington, DC, 20049, (800) OUR-AARP (687–2277), http://www.aarp.org/.
Experience Works, 2200 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 1000, Arlington, VA, 22201, (703) 522–7272, (866) EXP-WRKS [397–9757], (703) 522–0141, http://www.experienceworks.org/site/PageServer.
Lions Clubs International Headquarters, 300 West 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL, 60523, (630) 571–5466, http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/index.shtml.
Senior Corps, 1201 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20525, (202) 606–5000, (800) 424–8867, help@ joinseniorservice.org, http://www.seniorcorps.gov/Default.asp.
Rebecca J. Frey Ph.D.