Senior living residents bring meaning to link between senior care and children’s programs

Middletown, Pa. Tuesday February 26, 2019

One of Diakon’s strengths is its diversity of services: Programs ranging from child-and-family services to comprehensive senior living communities.

A corollary goal is always to find synergies between the two emphases. Recently, for example, thanks to a Highmark Foundation grant, Diakon Community Services has offered educational health-focused programs for senior living community residents.

Sometimes, though, that synergy occurs naturally—in this case, thanks to the efforts of residents and clients.

As the Christmas holiday approached a few months ago, residents of all Diakon senior living communities, made aware of the needs of the children and youths served by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, decided to jump right in and lend a hand to Santa.

Their goal?

To help make sure that every child or youth served by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care in central and eastern Pennsylvania, as well by the Diakon Family Preservation and Reunification programs in Bucks and Delaware counties, received a gift and, by extension, knowledge that even more people cared about them.

Residents brought toys and other gifts for children aged newborn to 21 years to a central location within each of Diakon’s senior living communities. Christmas gift bins began to fill up and the space below Christmas trees soon overflowed with items.

In fact, the senior living communities held cookie-decorating parties with the help of Morrison Community Living, Diakon’s dining services partner, which provided gingerbread cookies ready to be festively adorned. In fact, some Morrison chefs participated in a friendly cookie-decorating contest, with the winner selected through online voting. Moreover, some of the senior living communities offered tours for interested visitors from the community, many of whom also brought a gift for the children.

The holiday spirit was everywhere, say executive directors of the senior living communities.

“That our residents took time to show they care meant more than they could ever imagine.”

Diakon Ministry Support staff members made sure the gifts were delivered to Diakon Adoption & Foster Care offices, where they were sorted and selected for each child. Nearly 300 children and youths were being cared for at the time, says Joyce Riche, director of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care′s Topton office, but “Santa’s helpers” were undaunted.

“I understand that many of the senior living residents personally shopped for the gifts and those who could not shop gave money in a card,” she says. “Their thoughtfulness and generosity, which made this possible, was incredible.”

Debra Gogno, executive director of The Lutheran Home at Topton, describes the cookie- and toy-focused event as “an opportunity for a great day of celebrating. The response from the senior living campuses was terrific,” she says. “If you put out the call, they respond. They are very respectful and caring. They give what they can to help when they can.”

“Families deeply appreciated this joint effort,” she says. “The children didn’t necessarily know where the gifts came from but everyone benefited from the great spirit of the event.” 

The holidays can be an especially stressful time for children and youths in foster and kinship care as they adjust to new circumstances. In fact, Riche notes, a child could have been placed right before the holidays, with little or no time to plan or prepare.

“That our residents and others took time to show their care and spirit meant more than they could ever imagine.”

Staff at The Lutheran Home at Topton with some of the gifts collected.

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