Our elderly population, which often goes completely unnoticed, is among the least and lost of our society for which Christ teaches us to care. The Agency for Healthcare Administration in Florida reports there are 300 long-term care centers in Broward County with 13,000 residents. These senior citizens often spend their days isolated from the outside world and longing for fellowship. They are left to spend the finality of their years without family, friends or the love of a church. The sad truth reported by the National Care Planning Council is that out of 100 residents in nursing homes, one third will die each year in these homes. And that’s why Heart 2 Heart Senior Outreach of South Florida is committed to spreading the love of Jesus Christ through regular and consistent visits with the residents of these long-term care facilities.
Heart 2 Heart is a ministry solely dedicated to the mission of loving the elderly. Initiated three years ago, the group has grown under the leadership of executive director Marti Engel, to include over 200 volunteers from 20 churches. But that’s nowhere near enough to fill the hearts and souls of the thousands of seniors living in Broward County. And with the holiday season around the corner, long term care centers in South Florida and across the country are scraping to find volunteers to fill the long days.
But this population doesn’t just need a quick Christmas carol or card. They need real, tangible relationships. They need the warmth of a human touch. They need to know they are loved and cared for by their Creator. And that’s where Heart 2 Heart comes in. They provide the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Volunteers from Heart 2 Heart make friends with the senior residents that reside in the long term care centers, build relationships and introduce the love of God into the hearts of many. During the holiday season, which can be especially hard on seniors in these facilities, volunteers visit, spend time talking and fill them with the spiritual food that they so desperately need.
Omar Aleman, Executive Board Member of Heart 2 Heart says that this is a wonderful time of the year to start getting involved with our seniors. “After I visit with the residents, I feel like I’m the one that gets the gift,” said Aleman. He recounted a story of a senior who was recently visited by a volunteer providing a kind word and an ear to listen. The resident said,” I may never see you again, but I’ll look for you in heaven.” Aleman’s heart was burdened as he recounted the story and shared how important it is that we take care of our elderly. “The scripture is so true. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” he said. Volunteers carry their hearts into these long term care centers, and with just a listening ear are able to show the love of Christ. “It’s what Jesus did not as much as what he said,” said Aleman.
Honor the elderly
And this is the burden of Heart 2 Heart-to rally believers as we are instructed in Leviticus 19:32 to “rise up in the presence of the aged, and honor the elderly…”
Clay Brasington, church outreach manager for Heart 2 Heart explained that many of these people have outlived friends and family or relocated for retirement purposes. “Whatever the reason, they are not being visited” he said. He encourages churches and volunteers to “give that cup of water in Jesus’ name and share the love of Christ.” Brasington said that Heart 2 Heart is actively trying to recruit volunteers and link them to residents in the various long term care centers. “We have an ongoing ministry, not just the holidays.” He recounted how every year after going caroling at these centers, he felt there was no follow-up. He wanted more. “These people need someone who knows their name, reads to them and just loves them In Jesus’ name. It’s about relationships.” Brasington said that volunteers report a greater sense of God’s presence in their lives, and care center staff report what a huge benefit it is for them as well.
Getting involved is as simple as picking up the phone and beginning the process with Heart 2 Heart. Here are a number of ways people can reach out. This includes teenagers. Students can get service hours for volunteering and the seniors adore the precious time they have with the kids. There are also opportunities to make Christmas cards with the elderly, which brings them enormous joy. Volunteers can help work on simple projects with them, which gives the seniors a sense of independence and an opportunity to enjoy the holiday season by making gifts for their own children and grandchildren.
Serving this population comes down to basic human need. Ministry leadership for Heart 2 Heart encourages people to go beyond just the holidays. We are called to care for people in their distress and in the process become blessed ourselves. For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact Heart 2 Heart at 954-315-2218 or visit www.heart2heartsenior.org.