National Eldercare Campaign

By Joyce T. Berry, Ph.D.

Administration On Aging Invites Religious Community To Join National Eldercare Campaign

The Orthodox Church in America has had a long standing interest in the ministry to and with senior citizens. The Department of Senior Life and Ministry was created to increase awareness of issues important to older people and their families, provide information on programs and organizations found within our parishes, and provide education to both the priests and laity regarding aging issues. As a department we have maintained the OCA’s membership in several organizations dedicated to advocating for and providing service to the elderly.

The National Eldercare Campaign provides another opportunity for individual members and parishes to become involved in ministering to the elderly. The overall goals of education and program implementation are consistent with the continuing efforts of our Church. It is important that all Orthodox Christians become aware of the issues and the local resources available to them. Additionally, there is a continuous need for our clergy and membership to become invested in older parishioners, aware of their unique concerns and contributions, and advocates for their physical, emotional and spiritual well being. The National Eldercare Campaign is worth our interest and efforts in working toward these goals.

Diane Zablotsky, Chairman,
Department of Senior Life and Ministry

You may know that an estimated one in four congregation members is age 60 or over. But do you also know that by the year 2030, that figure will be true not of congregations but of American society as a whole? And are you preparing for that day?

If you’re like many clergy members, you may not be. “I think that religious leaders intellectually see the need to look at the matter of changing demographics and recognize that we are soon going to have higher proportions of older people,” says Earl Kragness, manager of the Interreligious Liaison Office of the American Association of Retired Persons. “But at the same time, when the bottom line comes on budgets and allocations of money for programs, there’s this feeling that ‘Well, we’d better put the money into youth programs because the youth are the ones who have to be trained to take over the leadership of the church’.” A lack of training in gerontological issues reinforces this trend.

But as Kragness adds, the situation shouldn’t be “either/or” but “both/and” when it comes to serving the needs of young and old. And with the coming boom among the elderly population, programs for older people will become increasingly important. An excellent way to start the process is by participating in the National Eldercare Campaign. Initiated by United States Commissioner on Aging Joyce T. Berry in 1991, the campaign is the Administration on Aging’s response to this country’s changing demographics.

Traditionally thought of as a youthful society, the population of the United States is rapidly aging. In fact, the over-85 group is the fastest growing segment of our society. Many of these older people will suffer from the limitations associated with aging. Millions of older Americana are already at risk of losing their self-sufficiency. These people turn to their families and friends for help. A network of State and Area Agencies on Aging provides services such as meal delivery and special transportation services. Religious, charitable, and volunteer groups try to fill the gaps. But as the number of older people increases, these resources won’t be enough.


“Empowering our Nation’s communities to meet the needs of their seniors is what the National Eldercare Campaign is all about,” says Berry. The campaign has three specific goals. First, the campaign seeks to make the public aware of aging-related issues and convince them of the need for help in meeting the needs of older people today and in the future. Second, the campaign hopes to broaden the resources available to older people by persuading individuals and organizations not currently involved in the field of aging to adopt aging as a priority. And third, the campaign strives to encourage community action on behalf of older Americans as part of its Project CARE (Community Action to Reach the Elderly) component.

The religious community can play a vital role in these efforts. Whether you are a national leader of your denomination, a leader of a local congregation, or a lay person, your first step should be to educate yourself about aging and ways of helping vulnerable older people retain their independence. Your local Area Agency on Aging or Project CARE coalition can tell you what services are already available. Once you’ve found that out, you’ll be ready to begin a public awareness campaign. If you direct policy for your denomination, you might insist that training for new clergy members include a section on gerontology. If you lead a congregation, incorporate eldercare issues into your sermons and add information and referral to your counseling sessions. Ask members to share information about eldercare issues and services through bulletin boards and newsletters. And encourage your congregation to sponsor forums on issues such as caregiving or health care reform that affect older people and their families.


Next, increase your community’s eldercare resources by encouraging your entire congregation to volunteer on behalf of isolated, frail, or ill older people. You could link young and old members together in “adopt-a-grandparent” programs. Homemakers could shop for older people, prepare meals for homebound seniors, or serve as friendly visitors. Business people could donate money or materials to be used for such services as home repair for the elderly. Put your congregation members’ special skills to use. A member involved in the media, for instance, could help you write articles, create a videotape about eldercare issues, or think of other ways to inform the public. The elderly themselves are potential volunteers, their advanced years often making them perfect for such tasks as teaching parenting skills to teen-aged parents.

Lastly, encourage community action. Because communities generally trust and respect their religious institutions, you are in an excellent position to conduct telephone or door-to-door surveys of needs. You might set up an adult day care program, a senior center, or a shop where older people can buy and sell their arts and crafts in your church or synagogue. Or you could simply support the efforts of already existing programs. Cooperate with the Project CARE coalitions in your State. Make your facilities available to people providing meals, fitness programs, social activities, and continuing education programs to older people. Allow your buses or vans to be used to take seniors to medical appointments, on shopping trips, or for recreational excursions. No matter what you choose to do, you’ve already shown your commitment to the idea that aging is everybody’s business.

For more information about how you can become involved in the National Eldercare Campaign, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.

Joyce T. Berry, Ph.D. is U.S. Commissioner on Aging.