Caregiving with older adults: one parish’s story

November 28, 2017

Caregiving with older adults: one parish’s story

Recently at a local caregiver conference I met a senior adult who shared how the increasing care for her husband was overwhelming. She said that she had come looking for caregiving direction and support.

This lady’s circumstances serve to illustrate a growing caregiving reality facing our country as the population ages with 10,000 Baby Boomers (1946-1964) turning 65 years old each day. Where can Catholics turn for assistance with caregiving needs for older adults in our Archdiocese?
The Church has had a long tradition to tend to the most vulnerable with Christ’s compassionate care.

This past year the Archdiocesan Office of Aging has initiated a collaborative effort with Catholic Charities and a network of parishes who are currently offering caregiving services to families of older adults. Its focus has been to bring these parishes together to share their collective wisdom and provide educational, community and spiritual resources to sustain their efforts.

One of these communities is Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Spring. Their parish social minister who oversees their caregiving ministry is Jan Papciak. Parish social ministry typically serves as the front line response to community members who are in need of temporal or pastoral assistance.

When families with older adults require some form of caregiving support, the parish social minister responds by assessing the situation and offering appropriate resources. The resources might include assistance with food, shelter, or clothing, programs that provide respite care or relief time for caregivers, in-home visiting support, or appropriate referrals to a variety of social service community partners.

Papciak’s pastoral care with older adults was rooted in her own fond childhood experiences with her grandparents. As an adult Papciak’s pastoral care with older adults progressed from serving as a volunteer to becoming a full-time parish staff member in 1994. Her participation in a Catholic Charities-sponsored parish social ministry formation program helped prepare her for this role.

During Papciak’s years at Christ the Good Shepherd, she has seen an increase in requests for caregiving assistance as well as how to help older adults transition to communities when they require assisted living and nursing care services. One of the ways that her parish responded to these challenges was to partner with a community organization called CarePartners to start a program called “Gathering Place.”

For this program, parishioners volunteer to provide a once a month on-site parish gathering for persons with early stage Alzheimer’s so that their care providers can have a few hours break to care for themselves. The gathering consists of various fun activities, entertainment and lunch to engage the seniors in a safe and loving environment. Their parish is also engaged in another CarePartners’ program called “Second Family.”
This program develops trained teams of volunteers to provide seniors with in-home support by offering friendly visits. Many of the volunteers have been persons who experienced firsthand the need for support for themselves in the role as caregivers.

Papciak indicated there is a sacred trust her teams have with the caregiving families as they respect the seniors’ dignity and desire for self-reliance as well as their sense of vulnerability in asking others for help.

One of the parish’s successful ways to build awareness of their ministry is by her reaching out to the parish’s senior club and explaining the caregiving ministry to them. Other ways to keep parishioners informed are by listing these services on their parish website, posting program updates on their Facebook page, and even by utilizing a new phone app.

Papciak noted the blessings of having the whole-hearted support of her pastor, Father James Burkart, as well as the joy of walking with the families, forming friendships with them and just being lovingly present to them.

She emphasized that to face the demanding challenges of the ministry, it was essential for her and their volunteer team to remain spiritually-centered in prayer with the Lord.

Their parish will be hosting a caregiving seminar for area parishes early next year to address caregiving planning as well as to introduce the community to various caregiving support providers.

Mark Ciesielski is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Aging Ministry.