Utilizing A Church Facility For Senior Citizen Programs

By Carol Garklavs

A service of great value to the community can be offered by donating the space of an empty church hall when it is not being used by the parish. This is exactly what SS Peter and Paul Orthodox Church of Syracuse, New York has done since 1980. It has offered its church hall for the nutritional and recreational use of seniors in the local community.

Through the active community involvement of its pastor, initial contacts were made with the official city agency on aging, the Metropolitan Commission on Aging, which administers all the federal, state, and municipally funded programs for seniors in the county area.

Upon learning of the need for a site in their area, the church agreed to offer the hall during the week. (By providing the space to agencies that are already set up to administer these needs, rather than formulating a complete program on its own, the church avoided the long and often arduous process of licensing, meeting regulations, health codes, etc.) A feature that made the hall especially suited to the program is that it has a wheelchair access, thus providing no barriers to handicapped persons.

Once the site offer was confirmed, the Westside Seniors, a non-profit group, was formed. It holds monthly meetings at the hall and the only requirements for membership are to be sixty years of age and to pay the annual dues of $2. At the present time there are over five hundred members.

Two Programs Offered
Two programs were established for the Westside Seniors. In April of 1980, a leisure time Arts and Crafts program was begun under the auspices of the M.C.O.A. The church hall thus became one of the 122 sites in the county providing leisure time arts and crafts and socializing. A recreational aide and a social worker, employed by the M.C.O.A., run the program, which is held every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 10 AM to 3 PM. There is no charge for these activities.

A little later, on October 28, 1980, a weekly luncheon program for seniors was begun on Tuesdays at the hall. The Senior Nutrition Program is also administered by M.C.O.A. and provides seniors with the opportunity to have a hot, nutritious meal. All persons age fifty-five or over, and their spouses, are welcome. There is a suggested contribution of $1 per meal, but no one is turned away because of an inability to pay. The lunches served at the hall are prepared at a large central kitchen run by P.E.A.C.E. Inc., a local non-profit community agency which sub-contracts under the M.C.O.A. to provide meals to seniors. Funding is provided under Title III-C of the Older Americans Act. While use of the facilities is donated by SS Peter and Paul Church, both the Westside Seniors, from their treasury, and P.E.A.C.E. Inc., make contributions to the Church to offset the cost of utilities, etc.

There has been a tremendous response to the luncheon program. Every Tuesday, between two and three hundred lunches are served. For special holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, over three hundred fifty meals were served. These services were expanded so that an additional day, Thursday, was given over to the nutrition program, as of June 1, 1982. Now there are four days of the week which are devoted to the senior citizens programs at SS Peter and Paul Church Hall: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 10 AM to 3 PM, Arts and Crafts; Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, lunches are served.

Community Outreach

Although the majority of the people participating in these programs are not Orthodox (most are Polish or Irish Catholic from the neighborhood ) at least fifteen older parishioners of SS Peter and Paul take part in the weekly program. (In addition, senior parishioners and others living in the neighborhood who are shut-ins, have meals brought to them.)

On both Tuesdays and Thursdays either the pastor or the assistant pastor come and say the blessing for the meal. The Westside Seniors hang up an icon of the Theotokos for all their meetings and meals, and begin all activities with a prayer. In addition to the priest’s presence, parishioners interested in becoming involved with the seniors program can volunteer their services to the particular agencies that run it. At SS Peter and Paul, the person who is the hall manager for the church volunteered to become the nutritional site manager for the agency. In this position she coordinates the serving of the already prepared meals and supervises the serving of them. No previous experience for this job was necessary, although once hired, she was given some minimal training in food handling. While her job and some positions do sometimes offer a modest salary, most of the work is done on a volunteer basis. In this instance, the volunteers who help serve the food and clean up are the senior citizens themselves.

A benefit of having the priest and/or parishioner(s) involved in the program is that, through them, the church is assured that the hall is being used properly. If questions arise, the lines of communication are already established.

Thus, the Orthodox Church of SS Peter and Paul in Syracuse serves and witnesses, not only to their own parishioners, but to the community at large - through the use of its facilities, its pastor, its parishioners a good example of lay ministries in action.

Check List

To Set Up a Recreational and/or Luncheon Program
For Seniors in Your Church Hall

1. Discuss with your parish the possibility of offering various services to senior citizens. If there is positive interest:

2. Contact your local agency on aging to find out how it operates and what its needs are.

3. Discuss the specific needs of the agency and to which of them your parish could give assistance.

4. Together with the agency, work out the plans for setting up and running the particular program, making sure to clarify:

a. What the agency or agencies would provide.

b. What the church would be expected to provide.

c. In what way the priest could be involved.

d. What personnel would be provided by the agency.

e. What positions - paid or volunteer - could be offered to the parishioners. Whether any training is needed for these positions, and if so, how it would be met.

f. Who the liaison would be between the church and the agency.

5. Once the program has been worked out, make it known to your parishioners and to the seniors in the community. Keep your parish informed and periodically updated on the services and opportunities to serve that the program provides.

Carol Garklavs is a social worker, and a member of the Section on Seniors in the Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.

Carol Garklavs is a social worker, and a member of the Section on Seniors in the Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.