By Ken Bomar
As the baby boom generation ages, our communities and local Churches will encounter unprecedented needs related to older persons. By 2030, the U.S. population 65 and older will double to about 71 million older adults, or one in every five Americans. Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person calls us to ensure that no one is left without the caring presence every person deserves. Our readiness to meet these vast needs will depend on our ability to forge collaborative partnerships between parishes and community resources, such as governmental agencies and other organizations that provide services to the elderly.
In Texas, the Diocese of Austin has partnered with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to better serve older persons in the community. This partnership has helped ensure that parishes are aware of resources and that Catholic families have practical ways to get involved in serving the aging community. Because every state has a similar department on aging, as well as other related agencies, this model can be replicated throughout the country. Following is a sample.
1. Use the Age Well–Live Well model to promote key areas. These should include health and wellness (physical/mental), resource awareness, and individual and community engagement (volunteer opportunities). Age Well– Live Well is a collaborative community initiative that promotes health, wellness, volunteerism, and provides information on services for older Texans and people with disabilities. Through the Age Well–Live Well initiative, local organizations work together to provide residents with information on local, state, and federal programs.
Age Well–Live Well focuses on:
• Creating awareness of aging issues and resources offered through Age Well – Live Well partners and the aging and disability network
• Improving the physical health of older adults, people with disabilities, their families and all segments of the Diocese/Parish area
• Providing opportunities for Diocese/Parish members to volunteer with older adults and people with disabilities
• Engaging the community in collaborative partnerships that benefit all
2. Develop educational and motivational programs to involve the maximum number of people. This can include events, seminars, internal and external communication, web based information exchange, partnering with local media, and programs to meet specific needs.
3. Utilize resources that are already in place. Grants and ongoing governmental programs support a wide array of resources for the elderly, but often people are unaware of them. Church leadership can serve as referral points to inform families about these services.
4. Commit to short term initiatives leading to long-term mutual goals. Continue to communicate with partners, parishioners, and the community. As the demographics of our society and parishes change, an aging population that is healthy and adequately cared for is a large goal and one that will require considerable planning to ensure that every person is treated with dignity and respect.
Ken Bomar is marketing director for Volunteer and Community Engagement with the Texas Dept. on Aging and Disability Services.