Salvation Army maintains connection with OKC’s older adults to meet critical needs
Some of Oklahoma City's elder population live in the shadows, existing on few resources and with very little human contact.
It's a situation Lisa Sydnor knows all too well these days.
Sydnor is senior programs manager for The Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command.
She debuted a program last year called Senior Watch, which is designed to find and meet some of the unmet needs of older adults in the community.
When Sydnor began visiting The Salvation Army's senior centers each week, she was surprised to learn that some seniors needed beds, something many people take for granted.
She said one man had been living with family and friends as what is often described as "couch homeless." He finally got an apartment but had no furniture and was sleeping on the floor.
Sydnor said sleeping on the floor was a catastrophe for the older man because he had a ruptured disc in his back, which he took medication for. She said during her first week with the Senior Watch program, she was able to purchase a new bed, working with Mattress Firm to obtain mattresses for him.
The program manager said some older adults have a lot of pride and initially feel uncomfortable talking about what they need. She said their stories often unfold as she sits with them and listens to them speak about their life journeys.
"I wasn't surprised by the situations, (but) I wasn't sure that the seniors would share with me. I was surprised that they would talk with me," Sydnor said.
Meeting critical needs
Sydnor said Maj. Carlyle Gargis, former leader of the Central Oklahoma Area Command, came up with the idea for the program based on one that he started in 2014. As part of Salvation Army Night Watch program, Salvation Army staff and volunteers take sandwiches, soups and other snacks and beverages, along with prayer, out to the homeless on downtown Oklahoma City streets once a week. During inclement weather, the group takes gloves, blankets, coats and winter caps to people living on the streets.
Sydnor said Gargis envisioned the Senior Watch program to be similar to the homeless program. He thought Salvation Army representatives could visit with people in their homes to see to their needs, but leaders discovered that older adults were leery about strangers coming into their homes.
"They wanted help with many things but not coming into their home," she said. "So, it's changed a little, but it's still meeting a critical need for our seniors."
Sydnor said Senior Watch began a year ago with a grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. She found several older people living in senior housing with little furniture and sleeping on concrete floors.
In the program's first few months, Sydnor purchased nine beds, with mattress covers, comforter and a set of sheets for each.
The circumstances vary, but the need for a good bed seemed to be common. Sydnor said one woman was sleeping on a broken recliner until the program obtained a new bed for her.
Meanwhile, Senior Watch also has helped supply senior adults with other household items like pots and pans, pillows, dishes, glasses and cutlery. One of these individuals was a man diagnosed with terminal cancer who returned from a stay in the hospital to an apartment that had been stripped of everything. Sydnor said Senior Watch purchased cooking utensils, dishes, a bed, chair and other items for him.
"They even took the food out of his pantry so we got him some food from our Client Choice food pantry," she said.
Another senior had emergency health troubles and had to pay almost $8,000 for health expenses. A shady contractor hired to work on the woman's house bilked her out of a large sum of money. Sydnor said Senior Watch helped pay the woman's electric bill.
She said many seniors have never been in a situation where they can't provide for themselves.
"Many of them have lost their life savings due to circumstances," she said. "The way they look at it, they have been reduced to living on Social Security. Some are bitter. Some are angry. Some just don't have family support."
These are the people that Senior Watch leaders envisioned coming alongside.
"It can be heartbreaking, but we are here to help them," Sydnor said. "We're grateful that we can do this."
How to help
In addition to financial donations, the Senior Watch program currently needs donations of the following: walkers, wheelchairs, elevated commode seats and shower seats.
To make a donation to The Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command's Senior Watch program, contact Lisa Sydnor at 246-1120 or email email@example.com.