Lutheran SeniorLife Residents and Participants Give Back

The National Institution of Aging claims older adults who contribute in meaningful ways not only benefit from improved health but experience an increase in the overall drive to live.

So, what types of projects does Lutheran SeniorLife partake in to keep our residents and participants engaged? Let’s take a look.

Robin Bowser, recreational therapy manager at LIFE Armstrong County, knows the hearts of her participants and the overwhelming demand for them to feel needed.

With most participants having limited access to resources, Bowser has set in place an initiative to help them live more abundantly.

“We started small with our community service projects by cutting coupons and donating them to military overseas,” Bowser said. “It just recently became a monthly activity, which is great because it makes them feel valued.”

Bowser said participants do everything from Christmas cards for veterans to murals for cancer patients.

“It just gives them a chance to be creative and more importantly have fun,” Bowser said.

Their most memorable project is one that involved the Pennsylvania state police.

With the help of donations, participants made gift bags packed with water, candy, notepads, and other useful items for the state troopers.

“I think they loved this project because the police came into the center to personally thank everyone,” Bowser said.

Participants didn’t hold back upon the officers’ arrival, either with one participant hopping into the cop car to get a closer look.

“All in all, I think the projects make our participants feel a sense of purpose and having the ability to foster these opportunities adds to the importance,” Bowser said.

Skyler Bartley, activities director at St. John Specialty Care Center, similarly plans meaningful events for her residents with charity givebacks and student visits.

Not too long ago, Bartley took a group of residents to a local animal shelter in Allegheny County to interact with the therapy dogs, and it sparked an idea.

“National Dog Day is celebrated in August so we thought it would be great for the residents to bake treats for the therapy dogs,” Bartley said.

Upon completion, Bartley hopes to assemble a group of residents who can personally deliver the creations.

Once the new school year begins, St John residents will also have the chance to interact with special education students from Mars Area High School once a month.

“This has been an awesome program for our residents because they really develop personal relationships with the students,” Bartley said.

The visits not only alleviate elderly feelings of loneliness but make the residents feel as though their knowledge is useful and valued.

“I remember there was one student who had some difficulty reading,” Bartley stated. “One day, a resident commented how much his reading improved, and she felt that she truly helped him achieve that.”

Passavant Community equally stays involved with perhaps their most unique project, the mat ministry program.

Approximately 25 resident volunteers are involved in the program which collects thousands of plastic grocery bags and turns them into crocheted mats for homeless veterans.

“Each mat requires about 800 bags and takes roughly 25 hours to crochet,” said Jim Slingluff, Passavant Community resident, and mat ministry coordinator.

This doesn’t account for the hours spent cutting, looping, and rolling the bags.

“We use any color bag with the most popular colors being white, blue and grey,” Slingluff said. “But we also have occasional orange and green bags due to newspapers.”

According to Slingluff, the group makes the mats for two reasons.

“First because plastic pollution is an immense environmental issue, second because we are helping the homeless and others in need,” Slingluff said.

“Salvaging 100,000 plastic bags might seem like a couple of drops in the bucket, but it’s still filling up the bucket, and that’s a great accomplishment,” Slingluff said.

Among many other volunteer efforts, adult day center participants prepare desserts for meals on wheels members, and skilled nursing residents raise money for hurricane relief.

Others crochet blankets for infants in developing countries and send gifts to active duty military overseas, all proving seniors can continue benevolent work and gain fulfillment from their service.