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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/FLIP PUTTHOFF Claryce Thomas of Bella Vista gets information about the Bella Vista Police Department from Christy Terry, then a dispatcher with the department, during the 2017 Senior Safety Academy.

Ten years ago, Paul Hass was called to be the pastor at the Bella Vista Lutheran Church. In those days, he remembers, there was a congregation of about 275 -- and most of them were retirees.

But times have changed. Hass' congregation has increased to nearly 600, and "from all appearances, it looks like it's gotten much younger, and we've gotten much more focused on families with youth."

SALT Sessions

Bella Vista: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 8, Bella Vista Lutheran Church, 1900 Forest Hills Drive

Fayetteville: 3-5 p.m. Oct. 2, 9, 16 & 23 at Drake Field, 4500 S. School Ave.

Bella Vista is, he says, a community that is "dynamically changing. The idea that this is a retirement village just can't be sustained anymore by anybody who lives here -- or looks around here."

The church has adapted, even building a new building because of the growth in the number of youth. But on the other side of the equation are "significantly more people in the congregation who are over 80 than there were 10 years ago."

Hass offers his explanation -- that retirees used to come to Bella Vista, play golf for 10 or 15 years, then move back home where their adult children were. Now, he says, the kids have gone somewhere else, and there is a significantly older and less obvious population left in the community.

What that creates for Hass' congregation is a need to care for the older, sicker or needier among them. Hass calls it pastoral care, and while it's been a fixture at the church for most of 20 years, the demand is greater than ever. To that end, the church has trained 14 volunteers who visit homebound members every week. Another dozen "confidential care" volunteers meet one on one with their parishioners as needed throughout whatever crisis is going on; "Good Samaritans" might go to someone's home to change a lightbulb or move a recliner; and a Shepherd's Food Pantry is open every Friday to feed those who might otherwise go hungry.

Pastor Stanley Jones, who says he's been retired since 1998, was the first pastor at the church and the one who started many of the social services offerings that have blossomed to help so many. Among the programs he is responsible for is the annual Senior Safety Academy, which takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 8 at the church.

Among the topics covered will be how to recognize and avoid Medicare fraud, identity theft and local scams; how to purchase safely online; and how reverse mortgages function. There will also be a question-and-answer session with Bella Vista police and even free flu shots. Breakfast and lunch will also be served.

"It's geared toward elderly people in the community who need to know what to watch out for and what's available to them," says Jones. "We'll have probably 30 vendors set up, and there will be firetrucks and a medical helicopter, weather permitting."

The program, Jones explains, is based on a national model, SALT -- Seniors and Law Enforcement Together. Coincidentally, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Fayetteville is offering its first round of SALT programs in October.

"Through OLLI, SALT is offering four workshops, on consecutive Wednesdays beginning Oct. 2," explains OLLI Director Josh Raney. "The workshops will cover SMART 911, Fire Safety & Fall Prevention; Recognizing Scams; Elder Law: Planning for the Future; and Disaster Preparedness (in that order)."

Raney explains that he and Alishia Ferguson, a faculty member in the University of Arkansas School of Social Work, both sit on the Washington County SALT Board, which had taken on a new initiative of creating a speakers' bureau comprised of representatives from the varying organizations who coordinate SALT programs.

"The idea with this was to offer shorter, more personalized SALT programs to the community," he explains. "From this initiative, Alishia, myself and others from the board derived the idea to partner with OLLI to offer a series of these shorter programs. This, we hoped, would be a great way to reach the OLLI audience but also a way to build awareness of SALT and its mission and services within the community."

All four of the SALT classes offered at OLLI are free, as is the Senior Safety Academy in Bella Vista. Both ask for registration, the Senior Safety Academy in Bella Vista by calling 855-0272 and the OLLI classes in Fayetteville by visiting or calling 575-3541.

NAN Religion on 09/28/2019

Print Headline: Serving seniors

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