Linda Martinez, 71, sounds like a kid again when she talks about the Salvation Army’s new senior program in south Modesto. The program, which opened earlier this fall, offers a wide variety of health and wellness activities for vulnerable older adults. She says she “jumped at the chance” to go once they opened the doors, often coaxing her sister to tag along.
“I don’t realize sometimes that I’m already a senior myself,” she said at a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the program. “But I love it and I thank…those that gave us a chance to be here.”
Martinez is part of a growing population in Stanislaus County. According to the California Department of Aging, the population of those age 60-plus in Stanislaus County is estimated to grow by more 150% now through 2060. The Salvation Army’s senior program is projected to help more than 400 seniors through the rest of the year in an area of the city—south Modesto—where there are few senior programs offering daily services.
“The opening comes at a particularly critical time as seniors can more comfortably and safely venture out of their homes after the pandemic but may still lack the means to access support services,” said Major Harold Laubach, Jr. executive director of The Salvation Army in Modesto. “Our program thoughtfully considers all those factors to create a holistic program that addresses important needs for seniors of all demographics in the area. Special considerations are made for bilingual seniors who may also wish attend.”
The program grants access to daily activities and support for seniors 55 and older, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Seniors can choose classes about mental health, nutrition and healthy eating, fitness and exercise, which includes access to a swimming pool and gymnasium. Guest speakers will also lecture on a variety of senior-specific topics such as senior health challenges, finances, social media and internet security. Seniors can enjoy a hot, nutritious meal prepared daily, as well as healthy snacks. Seniors will also have access to computer and online support classes. The program team will also organize field trips and outings to senior-friendly events, visits to the pumpkin patch, farmers markets, craft stores and health fairs.
Another unique part of the program includes transportation—oftentimes a significant obstacle for the elderly. The program has a dedicated driver with an ADA-accessible van to shuttle seniors to and from program activities and other appointments. The van will also shuttle participants experiencing homelessness from area shelters to the program’s classes and activities.
While The Salvation Army’s senior program focuses on physical health, the mental and brain health benefits of the program are also invaluable.
“The social interaction opportunities within this program and others like these are limitless, which are incredibly important for us as we age,” said Dr. Todd Smith, Foundation Area CEO for Sutter Health in the South Valley. “The positive connections these seniors can share with their peers as well as staff are immediate mood boosters. Socializing can spark happiness thanks to endorphins. It can also help stave off feelings of loneliness and depression, as well as lessen the chances for dementia.”
Funding for the senior program comes courtesy of community health investments from Sutter Health. Health systems like Sutter conduct Community Health Needs Assessments every three years. The assessments provide an in-depth look into priority health needs within a region, identifying communities of concern and vulnerable populations where community benefit investments from health systems are needed most. Sutter’s investment with the Salvation Army’s senior program directly responds to the priority health needs of Active Living and Healthy Eating and Safe and Violence Free Environment, which were identified within its most recent assessment for Modesto and Stanislaus County.
“At Sutter Health our mission is simple. We enhance the wellbeing of people in the communities we serve,” said Gino Patrizio, CEO of Memorial Medical Center, during the ribbon-cutting program. “We know we can’t do that all by ourselves. That is one of the reasons we seek out the Salvation Army. In our last [assessment], we learned that we have an opportunity to do better in caring for our seniors. And when we learned the Salvation Army was equally committed to improving the lives of our seniors, it was absolutely the perfect partnership for us.”
For more information about the program, please contact Captain Thelma Jimenez at Thelma.Jimenez@usw.salvationarmy.org.