Parish-based senior centers open to care for elderly, spiritually and physically

Bethany McBride of Catholic Charities of Central Florida leads seniors in chair exercises at the new Mobile Senior Services Center at Holy Spirit Parish, Lake Wales. The new group meets Mondays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

LAKELAND | As the needs of seniors grow in Polk County, Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) is rising to the challenge with two new mobile services for seniors centers. Earlier this month, a center opened at Holy Spirit Parish in Lake Wales. On Sept. 6, St. John Neumann Parish in Lakeland will welcome seniors to its new center.

“As a leader and shepherd, I am aware of many situations affecting our older adults,” said Holy Spirit Parish pastor, Father David Vargas. “It’s our responsibility as a Church to bring meaningful activities in which they may obtain or keep the basic principles ruling their lives: autonomy, social and spiritual connectedness, altruism as they desire to give something back to the world, personal growth as they desire to continue developing as human beings and revitalization.” The Holy Spirit Parish center opened Aug. 6 and offers free lunch, exercise, brain games, activities and crafts along with nutritional seminars and health checks.

Acknowledging the vast number of seniors in the state, Gary Tester, CCCF executive director said, “Seniors struggle with isolation which can lead to deteriorating mental health. They’re also vulnerable to nutrition and health issues, especially slips and falls. So we promote socialization, good nutrition and health and wellness through a variety of activities that are designed to stress flexibility and muscle development.”

Holy Spirit parishioner, Julia Flowers, appreciates that understanding. The 80-year-old, first-time participant from Frostproof came seeking more exercise. She noted, “knowing each other” is an added bonus. Since joining the group, she has made new friends, including Carol First.

First is 75 and lives in Avon Park. She lives alone and noted, “I have no public contact, so this gets me out of the house. And I love games immensely…  the more cerebral, the better. So this is my socialization for the week.”

Although Catholic Charities operates a permanent location out of the Lakeland Activity Center for Seniors (LACS), many find transportation there difficult. Thus, the idea of partnering with parishes came to life. “It’s designed to help their stage of life be as productive as possible,” stated Tester. He noted that the effort coincides with Bishop John Noonan’s priority of harmonizing ministries. “Many of our parishes have large, senior populations that they simply don’t know how to serve. We have a model that works well and they have the space and population. It’s a natural way to go.”

Being at a parish also enables the added spiritual element. At Holy Spirit Parish, the group of 9 men and women opened their day with prayer. Bethany McBride leads the program and shared, “It’s a great way to meet them where they are… in more rural areas of the county, especially reaching out to the faith community.” McBride said several people spoke of their faith when she asked what they do for self-care, acknowledging the role faith development has in their lives.

Enabling the establishment of additional sites is a Polk County Community Development Block Grant that provides for up to 10 new facilities. CCCF is partnering to provide services at Mid Florida Community Services’ centers operating Polk County Fellowship Dining sites in Mulberry, Ft. Meade, Bartow and north and south Lakeland, scheduled to start in September.

To attend a senior center activity group, one must be at least 55, although recently a 107-year-old gentleman signed up. Father Vargas said, it stresses the importance of, “Finding the goodness of having one mind, one soul and one heart in God, no matter the age we are.”

Polk County Services for Seniors

  • Monday – Thursday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Fridays from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., Lakeland Activity Center, 1510 Commercial Park Drive, Lakeland, FL 33801, 863-687-2988

In partnership with Mid-FL Community Services. Lunch provided through the Polk County Fellowship Dining program.

Mobile Services for Seniors

  • -Mondays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Bartow Meetinghouse (1400 Old Bartow Eagle Lake Rd, Bartow, FL 33830)*
  • -Wednesdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Polk City Activity Center (203 Lakeshore Dr., Polk City, FL 33868)
  • -Thursdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Lake Wales Care Center (29696 US-27, Dundee, FL 33838)*
  • -Fridays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Frostproof Care Center (17 S Scenic Hwy, Frostproof, FL 33843)

(*=LUNCH once per month through Polk County Fellowship Dining. Otherwise provided through CCCF).

Upcoming Mobile Senior Services Sites

  • Holy Spirit Parish, 644 South 9th. St., Lake Wales, FL 33853 (opened Aug. 6)- Mondays 10 .m. – 2 p.m., lunch provided by parish.
  • St. John Neumann Parish, 501 E. Carter Rd., Lakeland, FL 33813. (OPENS SEPT. 6 – Thursdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.)
  • Lake Alfred – (Fall 2018) – Clubhouse at Lions Park, Lake Alfred, FL 33850. Day/time TBA.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – August 30, 2018