Old age can mean a lot of loss — the loss of loved ones, of health, of independence. It also can mean the loss of someone to work through all of this loss with. Wesley Woods, the senior living nonprofit, has announced a new initiative to make the challenges that come with aging less lonely. With a $3.3 million grant from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation, Wesley Woods is creating a pastoral care program to provide its residents access to United Methodist clergy trained in grief counseling and other areas. Tracy Crump, president and CEO of the Foundation of Wesley Woods, has been at the forefront of this effort but the residents are the real driving force, she says. “The phrase they’ve used to describe this program is, ‘I need someone to walk alongside me on what is sometimes a difficult journey.’”
Q: Talk more about Wesley Woods and its foundation.
A: Wesley Woods' whole purpose is to ensure that folks can age with dignity and grace. We do that through providing housing, independent living, skilled-nursing and personal care. We serve about 1,800 older adults in 10 communities, including Atlanta, Athens, Blairsville, Newnan and Augusta. Five of our communities serve residents of low to very low means. The foundation's primary role is to ensure that older adults with limited means can have a wonderful life, too, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Q: Why is the pastoral care program important?
A: If you think about it, many older adults deal with grief and transition, not just the transition of moving into a different place but also leading a very different life. They have a lot of questions about the end of life and faith. Many have moved away from their church home or they may have mobility or transportation issues. We will be bringing church to them. This program will make sure that all of our communities have dedicated ordained clergy on-site who are trained in grief counseling and providing spiritual guidance.
Q: Was this something that residents wanted?
A: The idea came from different places but definitely the residents have asked for this. We have volunteers and part-time or retired ministers who come to serve, but nothing permanent. That makes it hard to build close relationships. This program is very important for our residents' spiritual health.
Q: Are there health benefits as well?
A: Wesley Woods has a very effective wellness program that helps increase residents' independence, balance and mobility. This pastoral care program really rounds that out. If you look at why older adults decline, some of the key factors are what you might expect — falls and chronic disease and health issues. But another huge factor is loneliness or depression and isolation.
Q: If I am Jewish or an atheist, would this program be available to me?
A: Absolutely. We were founded by the Methodist Church but people of any faith, or no faith, can live at a Wesley Woods community. The fact that these chaplains are ordained means that they are trained, educated and have a passion for providing pastoral care.
Q: How is the grant money going to be spent?
A: This incredibly generous gift from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation will endow the leadership position in perpetuity. The director will build the program. While we have some sources of funding, we will continue to seek other resources to hire the community-based chaplains.
Q. What are you hoping that the director will accomplish?
A. Our goal is to create a vital and essential program. Many of those called to serve, specifically to pastoral care, have a heart for older adults. They want to give others emotional and spiritual support to help them celebrate the good times and navigate the challenges of their lives.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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