According to the U.S. Census Bureau projections for 2020, the 65-and-over group will make up 16.2 percent of the U.S. population. By 2030, almost 20 percent of Americans will be senior citizens. The numbers are even higher for Florida: 21.8 percent of the population in 2020, and 27 percent by 2030. (They now comprise 13 percent of the U.S. and 17.3 percent of Florida residents.) While the 2010 Census reports that the median age of Americans is now 37.2, up from 32 just 20 years ago, Florida, weighing in at 40.7, is one of only seven states with a median age over 40. It has eight counties with a median age of 50 or older. Florida also claims five of the nation’s top 10 cities with the highest median age, including two in South Florida: Fort Lauderdale and Hialeah (both with 42.2).
The importance of the faith-based community serving community needs is not just locally recognized, but is also recognized nationally. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to create the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to provide federal assistance. This office is committed to improving communities around the nation, regardless of religion or political beliefs. The Office advances this work through 11 agency centers across government and a strategic advisor at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In addition, Florida’s Faith-based and Community Advisory Council was established to advise the Legislature on policy, priorities, and objectives for Florida’s comprehensive effort to enlist, enable, empower, and expand the work of volunteer faith-based and community-based organizations.
The Department of Elder Affairs recognizes the critical service provided to congregants and community by faith-based organizations. In times of economic uncertainty, those in need lean even more on assistance from the faith community. We have heard the numbers and messages over and over: Florida is aging. What comes with this aging reality is a litany of unique challenges. The social and economic impact will be felt in the pews of every faith-based organization in one form or another. This statewide survey provides a peek into the type of resources, partnerships, and services offered by those responding to the survey. The faith community has been, and is projected to continue to be, a major resource for community social needs.
During the months of April and May 2011, the Department of Elder Affairs issued a faith-based statewide survey to faith-based organizations of all denominations through SurveyMonkey. Distributions of over 1,000 contacts were made through the dissemination of letters, emails, phone calls, and word of mouth. Notices were posted in local and statewide newsletters, and information was provided at public venues (meeting, conferences, health fairs, etc.), encouraging faith-based survey participation. The survey was made available online for the month of May 2011 and upon request extended through June 17, 2011. One response per congregation was accepted, and 277 responses covering over 14 varied denominations were received. These responses demonstrate several unique findings: (1) reinforces the aging demographics of congregations; (2) supports that faith-based organizations are providing a critical service; (3) highlights that aging (social) needs, which are identified in the general community, are also reflected in the congregant population; (4) highlights that caregiving and elder abuse are leading issues; (5) identifies an openness for interfaith collaboration among the faith community; (6) identifies that faith-based sponsored transportation may be an underutilized resource; and (7) recognizes a definite disconnect between the faith-based community and resources provided by the aging network. It should be noted that this summary is reflective only of the 278 responses to this survey. Also noted is the one response from the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints represents their full state membership of 185 congregations.
There are many faith-based organizations in Florida providing services to their aging members and in some cases, the community. Probably most if not every person of need has been touched in some way by a faith-based service, either as a provider or receiver. As the lead state governmental agency for elder services, the Department recognizes the critical supports provided by the faith community. We strive to ensure that every Floridian has the opportunity to live an active, productive life in the environment of his or her choosing. This is a tall order and one where all of us have a part to play; however, the Department cannot be the answer for all needs. This survey tool assists the Department and the aging network to identify how to best direct their state and local resources. The aging network refers to the eleven Area Agencies on Aging across the state that also serve as Aging Resource Centers. The aging network also includes the Councils on Aging, local senior centers, Memory Disorder Clinics, lead agencies for senior services and numerous sub contractors of senior services. The Department recognizes that the faith community is and will continue to be an effective community resource in addressing the needs of Florida residents, young and elder. We sincerely hope to identify opportunities for collaboration with the faith community to provide the resources and supports available through our network.
For answers to your questions for senior services whether they be affordable housing, transportation, home repair, utility assistance, Medicare assistance, caregiving needs, location of congregant meal sites, nutrition tips, medical screenings, or other services, the Department has a toll-free number to ask questions or apply for assistance: 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337).
The full faith-based survey is available here. We have already initiated direct contact with those responders requesting follow up by the department. Those faith-based organizations wishing to participate in this effort are welcome to do so. We are providing the survey to you at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/InterfaithResourcesforEldersOpenSurvey. An update of responders will be reviewed later, depending on the number of responders.
Some of the highlights from the survey:
- 75 percent indicated at least 26 percent of their members are age 60 and older; however, only 59 percent had a ministry specifically for seniors.
- 79 percent of respondents provide cargiving services and support to their members age 60 and older.
- Many congregations have members facing transition decisions such as retirement, relocating to a long-term care facility, and providing caregiving services to their aging parents.
- 95 percent of senior congregant members are dealing with health issues such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s.
- Over 60 percent of seniors are the primary caregiver for their grandchildren.
- At least 70 percent of respondents indicated they have never partnered with an aging organization.
Someone once said, “You’d be surprised how much can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” The Department of Elder Affairs subscribes to this. We want those needing help to receive help. By joining resources, you would be surprised how effective one small vision can be.