Faith Partnership Serves Seniors

Faith Partnership Serves Seniors

Shepherd's Center to offer volunteer opportunities, assistance.

As president of the Burke 55'ers club, Shirley DiBartolo sees first-hand the needs of seniors in the community.

"This group is aging and sometimes have got to the point where they need more help," said DiBartolo. Some may want to stay in their homes but need help around the house, she said, while others need transportation help between local grocery stores and beauty parlors.

The Fairfax-Burke Shepherd's Center, a new partnership between Burke and Fairfax faith communities, will assist in this endeavor. One of more than 100 similar organizations across the country, the Shepherd's Center will offer classes, volunteer opportunities and services for elderly members of the community.

"We find value in who we are," said Pastor Ron Qualley of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Fairfax, which is heading up the center. "We are taking the resource of people of wisdom, stature, and integrity, and creating a future where we can continue that integrity."

"It's enrichment for people 50 and over but also gives opportunities for service," said Pat Seiler of St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax. Along with Lord of Life, other partner churches include Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, Burke Presbyterian Church, Jubilee Christian Center, and St. Mark Coptic Church, she said.

THE FAIRFAX-BURKE CENTER will use the Shepherd Center of Oakton and Vienna as its model, said Qualley. At the Vienna and Oakton center, organized in 1997, seniors can take classes in everything from art to world politics to computer skills, as well as attend quarterly luncheons and travel on sponsored outings. Services include home repairs and around-the-house help, transportation to and from doctors' appointments, companion shopping, and record keeping assistance. The Fairfax-Burke Shepherd's Center hopes to provide services like these, said Qualley, with other programs such as mentoring services as well.

Fairfax County is fast becoming a "senior boomtown," said Qualley. While senior-centered services mostly focus on the daily assistance needs of their clients, it is also important to focus on those who want to volunteer.

"The goal would be that people would find meaning in coming together and learning from each other," said Qualley. "We are allowing the community to grow with excellent resources."

The Fairfax-Burke Shepherd's Center would complement other area organizations for seniors, such as the Burke 55'ers club.

"Their biggest help to us is that [the Shepherd's Center] is wider spread," said DiBartolo. "There are several different churches involved, and that’s what it's going to take. We are going to need more people to be involved with transportation."

THE 55'ERS OFFER social events and classes for area seniors, said DiBartolo, such as bus trips, Bingo, dinner theatre outings, and holiday parties. However, she said, the most valuable role of clubs like the 55'ers is to educate seniors about county resources available to them.

"The county has a lot of things out there, but they can't get to every corner of the county," said DiBartolo. 'That’s where these clubs come in."

The Fairfax-Burke Shepherd's Center will begin officially Thursday, March 30. Before then, however, members of the leadership council will spend time examining ways to best tailor the organization to the community, said Qualley. According to Seiler, this process will involve looking at the work of other Shepherd's Centers as well as surveying the population to find out what they want.

"When you are younger, you are looking for…material success, but as you get older, you are looking more for significance," said Seiler. "The inspiring part is telling people there is another way to contribute."

"I think the needs here in Fairfax and Burke are not much different from everywhere," said Qualley. "What actually are the needs we find here, and is that something we can meet for these people? We are kind of learning as we are going."