The words “Florida retirement” conjure many images—golf, beaches, boating, shopping, dining. And that lifestyle, indeed, is the reality for thousands of Southwest Florida seniors.
But social worker Leticia Santos and the folks over at Hope Lutheran Church in Bonita Springs see a very different retirement reality—one challenged by poverty, hunger and isolation.
Santos, in collaboration with a small group of supporters and the church, has launched a new program, Senior Community Resource Inc., to serve older adults in the south Lee County area. She’s been working with troubled families in the region for the past five years and saw a need.
“We have lots of services for single moms and children, but hardly anything for seniors,” she says.
Roughly 8 percent of Lee County’s 60-plus population—nearly 30,000 people—live in poverty, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census.
“We have affluent neighborhoods, but there is a good number of seniors who are living on social security alone,” says Sheila Morales, Hope Lutheran’s parish nurse.
“There are people choosing between buying medicine or food or paying the electric bill.”
The new program links seniors to organizations such as the county’s human services division, Goodwill Industries and United Way agencies through an information and referral service. It has also started a series of free health-related workshops and a weekly get-together to combat isolation, which can significantly impair seniors’ mental, emotional and physical well-being.
“It’s been great,” Santos says. “The support we’ve been getting has been above and beyond our expectations.”
Hope Lutheran was, perhaps, a natural partner. Santos and Morales have worked together on other issues over the years. The church houses the Amigos Center for immigrants, supports food assistance programs and health services, and offers a dementia-friendly worship service on Sundays in which a professional caregiver tends to those with the disease so their spouses can enjoy the service and ensuing social time without interruption. (Contact the church at 992-6952 for information on its offerings.)
Santos sees clients on weekdays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at the Cafe of Life, 26724 Nomad Drive, Bonita Springs, which has offered office space.
The following workshops will be held at Hope Lutheran Church, 25999 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs, 34135:
April 17: Being an Advocate for Your Health, 10-11 a.m.
April 26: Fall Prevention, 1-2 p.m.
May 1: Healthy Lifestyles for Seniors, 10-11 a.m.
May 10: Is It Depression? 1-2 p.m.
May 17: Why Do I Need a Health Surrogate? 1-2 p.m.
May 24: Health Services in My Community, 1-2 p.m.
In addition, Game Day is held at the church every Tuesday from 1-3 p.m., a chance for seniors to mingle and enjoy favorite games.
For more information, contact Executive Director Leticia Santos at (239) 908-1447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.