It should be no surprise that South Florida has been a hot spot for the Coronavirus since Florida has the highest concentration of older residents in the United States with adults over 65 making up almost 23 percent of Broward residents. Most of us have been sheltering in place to flatten the curve and in large part to protect our senior citizens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older. The most vulnerable may reside in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other types of senior living facilities where access has been restricted and activities limited. However, Heart2Heart Outreach of South Florida is on a mission to provide HOPE, share LOVE and restore PURPOSE to this aging population.
While visitors are forbidden at care centers, Heart2Heart Outreach has partnered with local churches to meet the needs of seniors in creative ways. “This is our time to really educate the Church on why this group of people is so important, why they are so vulnerable and why we specifically need to step into this moment. My hope is that after this is over, the spotlight that has exposed the vulnerability of the aging population stays in the light and doesn’t go back into the shadows,” said Juan Gallo, executive director of Heart2Heart Outreach.
According to The Silver Tsunami report published by the Community Foundation of Broward and its partners in June 2018, adults 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by the year 2030, and Broward has the fastest growing aging population in the state with those 80-84 expected to increase by more than 73 percent in the next 12 years.
The major issues in aging are isolation and transportation. Isolation is the silent killer when it comes to the aging population,” said Gallo. “If they’re institutionalized in a nursing home, 60 percent will never get a visitor.”
Loneliness and isolation is experienced by many of Broward’s older residents, especially those who have lost loves ones, lost mobility or don’t have local family for help. The Silver Tsunami report cited these factors as causes of increased depression and anxiety, reduced community engagement, reduced nutrition and medication management and increased medical problems, leading to elders feeling trapped with no purpose and nowhere to turn.
Heart2Heart Outreach works to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the elderly in our communities by mobilizing trained volunteers to build meaningful, sustainable and life-changing relationships with the elderly in care centers throughout South Florida.
Founder and Board Director Sean Stepelton launched Heart2Heart in 2010, supported by strong community partnerships and collaborative efforts, to provide a holistic model of care that addresses the social emotional, cognitive mental, psychological spiritual and physical wellbeing of aging adults in South Florida.
Since its inception, ministry volunteers have visited well over 2025 care center residents. “In March 2020 alone, 205 volunteers provided 299 hours of service and saw 241 beautiful people,” said Gallo.
“In a perfect world, our program model is that we partner with a church who adopts a care center. The church gives us access to a group of volunteers with one volunteer leader at the church directing five or six people at a specific nursing home.” Heart2Heart provides volunteer training and background checks to facilitate onboarding at the care centers. The ministry has developed relationships with 89 care centers in the area, and Gallo said, “There’s a trust relationship that’s developed between us and the care center, so we can move freely and spend time directly with people.”
Once they identify who’s in need of someone to talk with, “we’ll ask them things like what it was like to live in the 50s or what their favorite music is or if they have grandkids and what they like to do most. We respect people’s faith, but we find a lot of people are open to talking about Jesus and praying,” said Gallo. While some may be affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, Gallo said he’s certain that “even though they may not register that conversation, the feeling and emotion of someone caring for their soul – that matters. And God’s word will never fall short, so I know the Holy Spirit will carry that.”
For those uncomfortable walking into nursing homes, there are many ways to get involved. One volunteer, Michelle Klipfel, wanted to provide residents with blankets to keep them cozy in the often chilly facilities where temperatures are kept low to avoid bacteria growth. So she started a ministry called “Cozy Blankets” and gathered a group of volunteers to sew 52 fleece blankets that could be lovingly delivered to those in senior care centers.
Since the governor’s Coronavirus emergency order on March 14 prohibited all visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Heart2Heart has had to adjust its model to combat isolation in more creative ways.
In partnership with Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Church United and the National Christian Foundation, Heart2Heart purchased and delivered over 200 Amazon Fire tablets to care centers in South Florida. The tablets allow seniors to communicate with loved ones and volunteers outside the facilities in hopes of maintaining those connections.
Phone Calls and Skype
In cooperation with Cigna Healthcare Group, Heart2Heart volunteers are making calls via phone and skype as a way to reach out to the elderly. A brief phone call can make all the difference in the life of someone who is feeling alone, and this is something everyone can do.
Local care centers have provided the first names of residents in their facilities, so volunteers can make or write cards and letters to elderly to brighten their days. This has been a great activity for families looking to get children involved at home.
One care center reached out to Heart2Heart seeking volunteers to coordinate social activities for their residents via Zoom or other online means to keep residents engaged.
Drop Off Bins
Crossway Church is setting up a drop off bin, so people can drop off supplies for the elderly in care centers. Suggested items include crossword puzzles, magazines, Bingo, cards people have made or comfortable socks.
A Senior Grocery Assistance Program was developed in partnership with Van Horn Law Group, which utilizes volunteers to do grocery delivery runs for vulnerable seniors who are sheltered at home. Information on this service is available on their website at heart2heartoutreach.org/h2hgrocery/
Heart2Heart has partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee’s disaster relief program to provide 500 healthcare kits for those in need. Each kit contains a towel, toothpaste, soap, a toothbrush and canned turkey meat, and they’re seeking partners who can provide hand sanitizer and toilet paper to complete these kits for distribution.
The ministry is doing whatever it can to try to meet the needs of elderly adults. “We want to be a resource hub,” said Gallo, “so if you’re a church of 50 people and you don’t have a convalescent ministry, let us be your convalescent ministry. Or if you’re a church of 10,000 people, allow us to be an extension of your church, co-laboring in this space.”
Here are three strategic ways people can get involved:
- Pray. Pray that God will allow Heart2Heart to be the example of how we should serve the elderly.
- Get involved as a volunteer hands-on through their many projects.
- Contribute financially through your church, business or as an individual.
For more information, visit heart2heartoutreach.org.
Heart2 Heart Outreach By The Numbers
- Florida has the highest concentration of older resident in the U.S.
- 22.5% of Broward residents are over the age of 65 or nearly 430,000 residents, according to The Silver Tsunami report.
- Heart2Heart was founded on Mother’s Day 2010 to provide HOPE, share LOVE and restore PURPOSE to the aging.
- Well over 2025 residents of elder care facilities have received visits from Heart2Heart volunteers.
- 77 churches actively partner with Heart2Heart to serve seniors in care centers.
- 89 senior care centers in South Florida welcome Heart2Heart volunteers.
- More than 205 Heart2Heart volunteers actively visit seniors in care centers each month.