By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

The older we get, the more we convert back to our younger selves. At least, that’s the thought behind the Seniors Day Out program at Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock.

“It is the little things that make them happy,” said volunteer Jenny Sweatland. “They really enjoy Christmas and Santa Claus. We bring in a Santa and everybody brings a gift, and Santa gives each one a gift — we also do a group picture.”

Sweatland has been a volunteer for Seniors Day Out for about seven years. But this is the first year that the program has been held at Trinity UMC.

“It is a program that was formally held for many years at Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock, but they discontinued it,” said Tisha Gribble, the head organizer for Seniors Day Out. “I knew about the program, and I recruited some of my friends to be volunteers.

“It is a volunteer-driven program with people who were involved at the camp, but the church is providing the facility and all the incidentals.”

Every Thursday, the church hosts the social event that features speakers, BINGO, bean-bag baseball and other activities. Sweatland serves as the programs’ activities director.

“It has been very beneficial,” she said. “We have some seniors that this is the only time they go anywhere during the week.

“They don’t have very close family so their big day out is with the Senior Day Out program or going down to the Dollar General. I have seen a lot of happiness coming with us once a week.”

“…Trinity was good enough to open their arms and allow us to meet in their building,” Sweatland said. “It just brings me a lot of joy.”

Sweatland manages all of the functions, including making sure the breakfast is ready.

“I’m doing their activities for the day, whether it be crafts or volleyball or bean bag baseball,” Sweatland said. “I am the one that makes sure they are moving and not just sitting.

“I just make sure it all comes together in a day’s time. It is a lot of work, but it is very enjoyable, but I spoil them like I would spoil a baby.”

The program has eight dedicated volunteers that are there on a rotating basis every Thursday to help provide social interaction.

“I am a little more vested because it has been a good first for my dad,” Gribble said. “My dad has Alzheimer’s, and even though he is okay to be by himself, this is getting him in front of other people.

“He really enjoys bean bag baseball; he has really gotten into it.”

Gribble’s dad, Joe, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years now, but she said the weekly program has been “really good for him.”

“It wears him out,” she said. “He will come home and take a nap. But just to interact with other people, because normally it is just me and my mom, has been beneficial.

“He gets to be around people that he doesn’t know.”

Gribble said one of the things that they do is bring in different speakers. She said a member of Trinity UMC recently spoke to the group.

“Her daughter recently passed away, but it was an organ donor, and she said her organs helped like 50 people, I believe,” Gribble said. “So we try to have some educational and formal things, but we try to have fun, too.”

The program partners with CareLink and Gribble said they provide the meal and transportation. For the senior citizens, the meal is free, but there is a suggested donation of $3 if you are 60 and older.

“We’ve got people in rural areas that do not go out, but are still living on their own,” Sweatland said. “They just don’t get out and get about. This brings them to a group together and it gives them an outing out of the house and they don’t get depressed.

“They look forward to this every week.”

Gribble said they usually open about 8:30 or 9 a.m. and serve coffee. There is usually a craft, activities or board games. She said they have about 25 to 30 people in attendance each week.

“I would love to have more people,” Sweatland said. “On average we have about 26 to 30, which is a good little group, but I would love to have more.

“I would love for us to grow.”

Gribble said part of the reason they haven’t seen a lot of growth is they haven’t actively tried to recruit.

“This is our first kind of go at it, so we are still working the kinks out a little bit as well,” she said. “Once we get our flow going, we will begin to actively recruit, but we haven’t gone to retirement centers or anything of that nature.

“It is open to anybody. All the have to do is call the church by 10 a.m. on Tuesday to let us know they are coming, so I get the meal count to CareLink.”

“I would love to see more participants, but it is going to be on us to recruit,” Gribble said. “We want to get this first semester under our belts, and then in the new year, reach out to different centers.

“We want it to continue and CareLink is interested in it continuing. It is another site for them to serve. After the first of the year, that’s what my focus is going to be.”