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Run an errand, find a purpose

Faith in Action's goal is for folks to fill needs in themselves and others.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007


St. Petersburg- On a recent Monday, a small group of men and women sat in a semidark room following exercise instructions. Totally focused, the senior adults held sticks aloft, moving them side to side and toward the floor.

In another area of First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg's expansive campus, others in the senior adult ministry prepared to rehearse for choir performances at nursing homes and their own church.

After lunch, it was time to listen to a guest from Holy Family Catholic Church, who spoke about her parish's successful Faith in Action program, an effort sponsored by the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.The talk was meant to inspire interest in First Baptist's own program, which is set to begin this fall. As part of its preparation, the church's senior adult ministries will offer 22 hours of training taught by a hospice volunteer. The classes are open to the community and begin Oct. 3.

Pastor Ray Graves, who heads the senior adult ministry at First Baptist, is enthusiastic about the new project. He said there's a reason the church's senior ministry is crammed with day trips, cruises, exercise classes, crafts, Bible studies and other activities.

"Jesus was, of course, interested in our souls, but he was also interested in our total person," the pastor said.

For the senior adults Graves pastors, the Faith in Action program is meant to have a dual purpose, said Kathy Fink, a church member who is helping organize the effort.

"People in this age need to be needed. So many of us are alone at this stage of our lives and think, 'Who needs me?"' said Fink, 70, a widow whose husband was a diplomat.

Being in one's 70s is not the end, but "the beginning of a new stage," she said. "We need to be needed and we need to do a service, and we're able to do service. We often feel that we are spent by this age, and we still have something to give."

Giving might be as simple as picking up someone's prescription or taking them to the doctor, writing greeting cards or reading a few verses of Scripture, Fink said. There are times when an elderly parent might not want to ask a son or daughter to take time off work to help, she said.

"Or you don't want to go to the neighbor who is always doing nice things for you and say, 'I hate to ask you,"' she said.

The national interfaith volunteer program was started by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded it with mini grants. Since 1997, it has been sponsored locally by the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, said Kathy Roble, the organization's director of volunteer services.

"It's really just to help people learn how to be good caregivers in their own faith community. We have Muslims, we have Hindus, we have Baha'is. We have across the spectrum. We have a Jewish program," Roble said.

"We offer our hospice volunteer training and our hospice resources to help faith communities design and implement their own caregiving services. Most of the faith communities are dealing with the disabled, the frail elderly not being able to help themselves."

Roble said hospice holds bimonthly meetings with team leaders from congregations.

Two staff members, one each in north and south Pinellas County, coordinate the program and offer support.

Hospice also hosts an annual breakfast retreat that brings together the faith communities. She said the 22-hour training classes include information about confidentiality, how to develop listening skills and bereavement.

For some, the Hospice Faith in Action program might come as a surprise. It's the reason Fink seeks to explain that "it's not a death and dying program."

Roble agreed, explaining that hospice offers several services, including the more familiar palliative care programs for the chronically ill, counseling for children affected by illness in their families, and bereavement services after the death of a loved one.

Fink is pleased that 25 people already have signed up for Faith in Action classes at First Baptist.

"That's quite a commitment, because it's three hours each week for seven weeks," she said.

"One of the things that I think is a benefit of the class is that it not only teaches us how to help, but it kind of gives us permission how to ask for help. While we may have to ask for help this week, we can give help the next week."

FAST FACTS

Faith in Action

What: 120 participating Pinellas County congregations

When: Meets at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 through Nov. 14. Free.

Where:First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, 1900 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg.

Contact: Kathy Fink at (727) 528-1945. For further information, call the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, (727) 586-4432.

What classes cover

Caregiving

Listening skills

Confidentiality

Safety for caregiver and patient

How to handle spiritual matters