Community services in Somerville MA

Sister Ronnie Cawley writes from Boston.

ronnie_cawley2The Shepherd's Center is a concept of linking older adults together to reflect meaning and dignity. In this way identified needs can be met. Life is sustained. It is people helping people. The name reflects the support and caring expressed by the Psalmist: "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want..." Ps. 22

The primary purpose of the Shepherd's Center is to enrich the later years of a person's life with opportunities for services to others. This gives scope for self expression, meaningful work, and close friendships.

An equally important goal is to help older adults remain independent in their own living situation as long as they choose.

Shepherd's Centers are an example of how Churches and Synagogues can work together in community, enabling Congregations to provide comprehensive ministry so that the needs of older people are met.

Secret of Genius
The genius of the program is that it is ministered by and with older adults, rather than providing a ministry to them. It draws on the lifetime skills and experience of the participants.

At the same time, it provides these older adults a significant place in the community. It cooperates with but does not duplicate or compete with other programs or services of the ageing network. To avoid duplication, existing services and programs in the community are executed by older adults.

It is funded by contributions from congregations, participants, individuals, businesses and others in the community. It utilizes existing property.

How it all started
Back in 1972, in Kansas City, twenty-five congregations made up of Catholics, Protestants and people of Jewish faith, came together and started the Shepherd's Center movement. Today throughout the USA there are nearly 100 centers.

In this movement, newly-retired people, who might otherwise be at a loose end, find a framework for themselves by designing and executing services or ministries needed by other older adults. Volunteers have authority to make decisions and take charge of implementing those decisions. Thus, the work has a mark of ownership by the people.

Various home services are provided and various programs and activities. All are built around four main emphases:

  • Life Maintenance
  • Life Enrichment
  • Life Reorganization
  • Life Celebration

Here in Somerville, MA, our Shepherd's Center was started about ten years ago. It began with two Life Enrichment programs. The first involved monthly meetings for people of all denominations. By gathering to share a meal, prayer, reflection, sharing, companionship and various fun activities, people got to know one another. Loneliness was greatly diminished.  Our second service was Transportation and Escort. We recruited retired men and women who were willing to provide transportation to older adults for visits to their doctors. This meant picking them up at home, staying with them and returning them home. We found this service was very badly needed. Both clients and drivers were of varying nationalities, but we worked hard to match clients with suitable drivers.

Third Program
Five years ago, our Government offered a grant to organizations involved with older adults. Members were consulted, and after much thought and discernment a new program came into being. We call it the Caregiver, Companionship and Respite Program.

Since I already had experience of working on the other two programs, I was asked to take over this new venture. As in all new beginnings, we started slowly. We began by informing social workers, case managers, and clients' family members of our hopes and plans.

At present this program serves 40 to 45 clients and their families. It includes visiting people at home and in nursing homes, and offering respite for families. Some clients are bed-ridden, need walkers or wheelchairs, and several are blind.

Their needs are varied and many. A visit involves plenty of listening, reading to them, or taking them out with wheelchairs or walkers. It means adapting to the situation whatever it may be.

Some clients have very loving and caring families. Other are not so fortunate. Clients realize I am a Sister. They often ask me to pray with them or bring them the Eucharist.

I have listened to many life-long tales and I marvel at the courage shown. Yet, all need and want to be acknowledged, loved, affirmed. In nearly all of their lives a great sense of loneliness is expressed.

I have gained so much in this venture! It has made me more aware of the ageing process and how it affects us all.


You can learn more
about Shepherd's Centers of America
from the website: