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Salvation Army expands senior programs in Long Beach

In Long Beach, The Salvation Army increases its focus on older adult programming

A few years ago, The Salvation Army in Long Beach, California, conducted a needs assessment during its capital campaign to expand the preexisting corps to a Red Shield Center—a community center with recreation opportunities and social services. From the assessment, it became clear there was a significant need for services for older adults in the community with low incomes.

“Long Beach, in general, doesn’t have a whole lot for low-income seniors,” said Melinda Lankford, Long Beach Red Shield Director of Programs and Development. “Every Salvation Army is not the same. We go into a community or we revisit the community that we’re in and see what the current needs are…and then we seek to meet those needs.”

Lankford said two of Long Beach’s biggest needs were at-risk youth and at-risk seniors—groups they’re working to better serve. In April 2018, the Long Beach Red Shield dedicated its senior center. Since then, the facility has grown its older adult programming.

It started with bimonthly activities, like bingo and holiday meals, and expanded to include regular health workshops and screenings, Chair Zumba, “Grandparents as Parents” support groups, a walking club and gardening. The corps also has a women’s group and Computer Information Competency class by Long Beach City College.

A standout program? The walking club, held every Tuesday and Thursday morning on the facility’s track or in the gym (if it’s too hot or windy). The club began with one participant who was encouraged by his physician to walk after having back surgery. Now, there are 10 to 12 people who join in.

Salvation Army expands senior programs in Long Beach

Courtesy Long Beach Red Shield.

“[It’s] unsafe a lot of times when seniors try to walk by themselves, so our walking program is a really cool thing and it also helps them realize that other people are there in the same boat,” said Dorothy Rosnick, a Long Beach Red Shield staff member who oversees older adult programs and events. “[It] gives them some friendship [and] some camaraderie when they’re here.”

There are different incentives involved with joining the program. For example, the first time older adults participate, they get a water bottle.

“They’re happy to be here. They’re happy to be getting exercise,” Lankford said. “They love that we’re a safe space for them.”

The Red Shield is also hosting an Older Americans Month Celebration May 31 in partnership with Dignity Health—St. Mary Medical Center. The health organization is one of The Salvation Army’s many partners that sponsor older adult programs and events, which include Golden Outlook, Aura Health, AltaMed PACE, The Children’s Clinic/Flourishing Families, Optum, CareMore, Anthem, Health Net, Welby Health and Home Instead.

Even when in-person older adult programming had to pause during the pandemic, the Long Beach Red Shield looked for ways to serve them. The center worked with SCAN Health Plan and Food Finders to deliver about 150 food boxes a week to older adults in need.

But Lankford said the corps was excited to open its doors to continue older adult programs.

“They’ve been in quarantine the longest, so they are also the loneliest. Seniors who used to be always happy are really struggling with their mental health…They will just hug me and hold on to me and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re having this. Thank you,’” Lankford said.

Salvation Army expands senior programs in Long Beach

Courtesy Long Beach Red Shield.

Lankford also longs to bring older adults and youth together at the Red Shield.

“We’ve got youth and we’ve got seniors, and they need each other. I feel strongly about mixing those programs, especially in the summer,” Lankford said. “We’ve done it in the past…The seniors who [did that] loved it, and the kids loved that attention. I want them to feel needed. We need them here. We’re always calling them to be volunteers in our programs.”

According to Lankford and Rosnick, older adults are grateful for the program.

“They’re thrilled to come [to the senior center]. They enjoy being there,” Rosnick said. “They often tell their friends. They seem to really enjoy it.”

And longtime participant Paula Dancel—who attends the painting and crafting events and luncheons—agreed. She said she’s enjoyed having the time to socialize and the friendliness of people who attend.

“I really have a good time every time I go there,” Dancel said. “I think it’s wonderful and I love it. And the people there are so nice and helpful…Melinda and her team are really wonderful. They go out of their way to help us.”

There is a lot Lankford and Rosnick hope the older adults take away from the programs.

“I hope that they realize that there [are] always people there to help them and to encourage them and that no matter where they are in life, that they are loved and they have people who care about them,” Rosnick said.
Lankford agrees.

“I want them to feel seen,” she said. “I want them to feel loved by us and by God.”


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Vivian Gatica Lopez

Vivian Gatica Lopez is a writer based in Colorado Springs, CO. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Long Beach, and a passion for storytelling.