Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ministry to Seniors Part 2

Ministry to Seniors (MTS) also developed other programs and trained parishes in their implementation. Since we knew that a one shot, four hour volunteer training was insufficient to sustain a parish outreach to the homebound ministry, we used several strategies to address the issue of on-going training and preparation of the parish volunteers including:

On-site one-on-one training of the parish coordinators who were responsible for the operation of parish programs. We developed a training manual that covered particulars on recruiting volunteers, identifying the homebound, matching, record keeping, supporting volunteers, and more. And later we partnered with Fordham University’s Partners in Healing program to bring special training programs, with more spiritual emphasis and advanced listening skills to our veteran volunteers.

A quarterly reporting system and annual evaluation was devised to publish statistics and anecdotes on parish service in a newsletter distributed to all 400+ parishes in the Archdiocese. This also served as an alert to staff when problems or concerns were reported.

Ministry to Seniors staff held regional meetings for parish coordinators on a regular basis to provide ongoing support, sharing, information and training. MTS also modeled Volunteer Recognition Events, by honoring parish coordinators with awards, luncheons and gifts, Parish coordinators were encouraged to hold similar volunteer meetings and recognition events in their own parishes.

We learned that our volunteers provided real services, especially in rural areas where they transported patients long distances for dialysis or cancer treatments. From their stories and from listening to volunteers at meetings, we knew that many volunteers derived deep satisfaction from visiting. Many developed close friendships with those they served. Volunteers had been asked to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of those they visited. Others had noticed that the visiting program had bridged the gap between peoples of different colors and cultures, as they ministered to one another. And other volunteers had uncovered potentially life threatening situations and referred them to professional staff for intervention.

During this busy time in the late 90’s and even after 2001, we developed other models for parishes to serve their older members, notably Senior Link, Caregiver Support & Respite and Senior Spirituality Groups. Our programs were recognized nationally with a 1999 Daily Points of Light award, as well as other honors.

Senior Link was designed as a parish-based information and referral/advocacy program to help seniors and their families access needed entitlements/benefits and services in the community. Training and ongoing support were provided to program coordinators, mostly parish staff but also volunteers. Caregiver Support & Respite was provided through a six week workshop series based on Dr. Richard Johnson’s video course “You and Your Aging Parents” and follow-up support groups. Later we introduced the Powerful Tools for Caregiving (PTC) program in the New York area, an innovative approach to empowering caregivers to care for themselves. These caregiver services were implemented in our rural counties through funding from Older Americans Act Title IV and private grants.

Senior Spirituality Groups offered older adults opportunities for spiritual growth through faith sharing, reflection, prayer and discussion activities. Meeting on a regular basis at parishes and community facilities, the groups helped participants to see God’s presence in their life experiences. The group facilitators received training and ongoing support from Ministry to Seniors.

Looking back at this “golden age” of my career at Catholic Charities, I feel very blessed and grateful for the wonderful, talented people who worked so hard to serve the elders of our parishes. Not only my staff and colleagues at Charities but also parish staff, coordinators and volunteers, as well as the seniors themselves. It is amazing how much good people can do, with the help of the Lord. It was a privilege indeed to work with them and serve them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Career in Aging: Ministry to Seniors

Just realized I never finished the story of my career in aging (see Career on sidebar). The next installment is about my most satisfying experience at Catholic Charities as Director of the Ministry to Seniors Program.

Ministry to Seniors was the New York Archdiocese’s response to parish social ministry efforts to minister to the frail, homebound elderly and their caregivers. It grew out of a task force in the late 70’s to address the “graying” of the Archdiocese and which resulted in Catholic Charities’ Department of the Aging. See Blog 2/8/08.

Ministry to Seniors worked with parishes to enable them to meet the needs of seniors and their families in effective and Spirit-filled ways. Five different program models were developed that parishes might adapt to minister to the well elderly, the homebound and their caregivers:

Outreach to the Homebound
Senior Link

Caregiver Support & Respite

Senior Spirituality Groups
Social Programs

Ministry to Seniors
helped parishes recruit volunteers, conducted on-site training of parish staff, coordinators and volunteers, and provided on-going support, training and technical assistance. In 1997, 56 parishes had programs affiliated with Ministry to Seniors with over 525 volunteers providing nearly 30,000 instances of service to over 1600 homebound persons and their caregivers.

Training of volunteers at the parish level was seen as key to what Ministry to Seniors could offer parishes. We wanted to prepare these volunteers to be effective ministers to an aging, vulnerable population that was growing at an unprecedented rate and which had many unmet needs. A study funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation in the 80’s and conducted by Fordham’s Third Age Center found that an average parish is comprised of 25% seniors aged 65 and older, more and more of whom are frail and need assistance to continue residing in their homes. According to the National Council on the Aging, in 1996 the 65+ age group was 33.9 million or 12.8% of the U.S. population. And the older population is getting older. In 1996, the 85+ age group (3.5 million) was 31 times larger than in 1900, while the 65-74 age group (18.7 million) was eight times larger. By 2030 there will be about 70 million older Americans, twice the number in 1996 and 20% of the population. Fordham’s study showed that the first place seniors and their families turn for help is often their parish or faith community. Our mission was to help parishes meet this challenge.

Because of the tendency of most parish volunteers to be “overcommitted” timewise and averse to structured training, we designed a simple bare bones four hour basic course in outreach to the homebound. Over seven years, this basic training evolved as follows to cover four areas.

An overview of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual challenges of aging;
An introduction to benefits, entitlements and community resources for the elderly and their caregivers;
Communication skills;
The practical aspects involved in ministering to the homebound.

Challenges of Aging: This overview was usually done by a local professional in the field of aging, usually a health care professional or gerontology professor, and gave volunteers a knowledge of the aging process, the difference between normal and abnormal aging, and exposed several “myths” about aging. If the critical area of spirituality of late life was not within the expertise of the speaker, Ministry to Seniors’ staff provided a brief discussion of this topic. On some level the team recognized this deficit in the outreach training. We began to offer more in-depth treatment through presentations on Spirituality of Aging to volunteer groups, through retreats and Senior Spirituality Days, a major conference on Senior Adult Ministry and a new training for parish facilitators of senior spirituality groups, which are small faith sharing groups aimed at older persons.

Community Resources: This component of the training was usually done by a representative of the local area agency on aging and acquainted volunteers with information on the wide range of benefits and services available to the elderly. Volunteers were trained to be sensitive to specific needs of those they visited and to alert coordinators or Catholic Charities staff if a potential problem existed.

Communication Skills: A video by Ellie Waters of Oakland University was used to demonstrate “do’s” and “don’ts” of listening to older adults. The tape is designed to give trainees an opportunity to practice their listening skills, especially attending to feelings. This was one part of the training that staff felt was never given enough time. Trainees often expressed that they would have liked more practice in this area. Since there is no real on-site supervision of the parish volunteers, we were always been concerned about strengthening and expanding this segment of our outreach training. And later we did so in collaboration with Partners in Healing of Fordham University.

Practical Aspects: This segment treated such topics as: Getting Started as a Volunteer, Conversation Starters and Boosters, Guidelines for Service Provision, Setting Boundaries, Warning Signs to Look For, and more. Volunteers were provided with handouts on all these topics and to which they could later refer, as well as the names and phone numbers of contact persons in case of questions or concerns.

In the evaluations of the outreach training, volunteers were usually very positive in rating the training day. However, less than half scored themselves more than “moderately” prepared to begin their volunteer service.

To be continued….

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Many things to celebrate on this Sunday June 15th, Father's Day 2008. First I celebrate all the fathers in my life. My own Dad was a major influence in my life. He gave me my love of nature, my perfectionist tendencies and my Hungarian temper. The father of my three children has been there for me for nearly 44 years. He loves to help and was always hands on with his children's care, unusual in those days. I am grateful for his love and support. And I am proud of the next generation of fathers in my life - the fathers of my beloved grandkids. My son and sons-in-law are great Dads: playing, teaching, guiding and helping to care for their children.

Today I also celebrate the birth of Braden Michael, my sister's first grandchild, born on Friday the 13th. I am so happy for my sister; being a grandmother has been one of the major joys in my life. Now she gets to experience it. And she will be a wonderful Grandma!

Finally, Happy Birthday to my grandson Sam who is eight years old today.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Leader Test

I took this test and discovered I am Gandhi. Not bad. But I am more excited that I was actually able to paste the image to my blog! Wow!

What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A spring poem

To celebrate my daughter's honorable mention in a recent town poetry contest, I am sharing one of my oldest poems. I'll try to get her to post her winning poem, which is really a treat.

Boulder on the Hill

I am part of the earth.

I am bound to the ground,
longing to leap alive
into the blaring blue.

Crust warm and worn
stippled and stained
insulted, ignored
decaying, defiled

Youth passes me by
flying free, singing Spring!
All a-spin in the whirlwind.

While I lie alone
so old
so hard
so forgotten

I am one with the earth

I hold the light of 10,000 suns.
I hold the tears of 10,000 storms.

Crust soft, astir
teeming with life
buzzing with wisdom
glittering with grace

Youth stops to savor my story,
transformed by my treasure
for all ages.

While I watch and wait
so ancient

so loved
so timeless
copyright E.M. Ramos 5/30/96