By: Nechama Dina Reinitz, Master of Social Work (candidate)
Are we so preoccupied with the busy pace of our life that we have forgotten the needs of older adults or are we simply unaware?
Aging is not a popular topic. There is a common misconception that aging is negative. The idea of being vulnerable in a self-sufficient society is not looked upon kindly. In truth, aging is to be celebrated, not feared. Older adults are wise, capable and greatly enhance the community. Thanks to my past internship last year at Heights and Hills, an agency offering free services to older adults and their caregivers, I came to understand what this means. Not finding too many services for this population led me to run a project connecting the agency with the frum community in Crown Heights, where I live.
I uncovered various factors contributing to the limited services. Each organization or agency is limited by its structure. The community council is only able to offer services that are covered by their funding. Bikur Cholim caters to emergency medical care with limited resources. Tiferes Zekainim is only available part time for men who are able to learn. The Shalom Center addresses the need for a day center and meal delivery for those who want them. However, much more is needed. I came across a few individuals who have an interest in the older population and try to help out as best as they can. These individuals seem to be working alone, limiting their capacity to make a difference.
Another factor is the shortage of volunteers interested in helping with this population. Finding volunteers during my internship was extremely difficult, particularly males. When I called a local yeshiva I was told that if a boy asked to take off school to volunteer for friendship circle, the school would make allowances. However, allowing a student to be late so that he could walk an older man to the morning minyan would not be accommodated. I was told “friendship circle make it cool to volunteer with children who have special needs”. As a community we have addressed the need for services for children with special needs, but not the older population. Time is given for the boys to go on mivtsoyim, but chesed with our elders seems all but forgotten.
In addition, there is no hotline for older adults in Crown Heights with a list of all the resources that can be of help. Caregivers of older adults scramble to manage the ongoing needs of their loved ones, leaving precious little time for their own needs. Mundane tasks such as changing a light bulb, arranging someone to shovel snow or explaining how to use an iPad, can easily be handled by a volunteer. These small acts of kindness are beneficial to both the giver and receiver. Why has this not been set up yet?
Have our elders truly been forgotten in the busy pace of life, or are we all waiting for someone else to step up to the plate? I was cautioned not to take this on, “you can’t change the world”. This project requires time and funding to set up. It is too big for me to handle alone. I am turning to you all, trained professionals, parents, fellow humans. We are all the future generation of older adults. Do we want to be forgotten? What do you suggest we do? How can we address this issue and move forward? I look forward to reading your responses. If I have neglected to mention any additional services, please forward those contacts for those who need easy access. I am hoping that by creatively utilizing our collective ideas and resources, we can begin to take steps towards making a difference.
Let us make Crown Heights a more comfortable and supportive environment for our rapidly aging population.