May 26, 2016
All soldiers come back from combat with wounds, whether visible or invisible, says Ted Kretschmar of FOCUS Marines. In over six years and twenty classes, FOCUS works primarily in the realm of invisible wounds, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Survivor guilt, moral injury etc. These burdens and injuries often change these individuals and hold them back, causing rifts in families, self-isolation, anger and difficulty maintaining employment. Post-9/11 veterans are not quantified at local levels and Veterans Affairs can be difficult to access. Scarce resources or mismatched medications, often in combination with alcohol, lead to a high rate of suicide among those who have returned home. FOCUS exists to intervene in the lives of these men and women, offering hope and healing through their week-long classes. Various reporting and support systems in the Marine and Veteran community refer these returned soldiers to FOCUS for help. While many come dragging their feet, they leave with new hope and a plan. This is not to say it's a "straight line up," as Kretschmar says, but men and women move forward in their journey of healing.
The week-long classes are designed specifically to foster camaraderie, sharing and next step planning for those attending. While many of these men and women do not know each other upon arriving, they bond quickly over their experience, the uniform. "It's part of the therapy," Kretschmar points out. In the first few days there are health and mental health assessments, surveys of interests and experiences, in order to better work on career and health plans later in the week, as well as required classes. Evenings contain graduate testimonies or motivational speakers. On Wednesday, a time is made available for voluntary sharing. Approximately 75% of attendees share and many have called it an almost spiritual experience. From Thursday onward much of the time is dedicated toward established goals—specifically around broken relationships, personal improvement, volunteering and network building. There are also optional evening meetings, including AA, bible studies and financial literacy classes. The final night is a celebration that includes graduation, gifts and a party complete with karaoke.
The program does not end here. Official evaluation continues at three-, six- and 12-month intervals, allowing FOCUS to track continued progress. Of the participants, 80% will be more self-aware and mend family and relational ties, and 75% will still be making progress towards their goals a year after they completed the class.
The connections made during the week are also long-lasting. Throughout the week, participants have eaten meals and talked with other volunteers and program graduates. The table leaders keep in touch with their group, checking in and remaining available to talk, and helping with any legal or financial needs. Although this program has been running for over six years, the initial class still receives phone calls from FOCUS. While wounds persist and healing is a process, many of those who have gone through FOCUS say it has changed their lives and saved them from a different fate. Families have been mended, people are back in school and fewer are using alcohol and drugs to numb pain. Support and hope offer a very promising future to these men and women through FOCUS Marines.
April 21, 2016
Statement from Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee
President Obama signed the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2016 into law today, reaffirming our nation's commitment to the health and well-being of older adults. Earlier this year, the President called on Congress to reauthorize this important legislation as part of his remarks at the White House Conference on Aging. For the full text of this article, go to: http://www.acl.gov/NewsRoom/NewsInfo/2016/2016_04_19.aspx.
In Forbes, Contributor Howard Gleckman presents a little different perspective:
Congress has finally renewed the Older Americans Act—a key piece of the social safety net for seniors, writes Howard Gleckman in Forbes. It is good that, after a decade in limbo, the law finally has been reauthorized. But before you break out the balloons and champagne, remember that keeping programs alive on paper is not the same as paying for them. And the government safety net for seniors has been fraying for years, victimized by woeful underfunding. The full text of this article can be found at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/howardgleckman/2016/04/20/one-cheer-for-congress-renewing-the-older-americans-act/#3a6683e8477e.
December 01, 2015
Stephanie*, an older St. Louis resident, was introduced to Mission: St. Louis after her husband and father both died within months of each other. She no longer had help maintaining her home and she was disheartened and overwhelmed. Volunteers arrived at Stephanie’s home to assist with minor repairs. But they did so much more than fix railings and paint walls: they supported and encouraged Stephanie and showed her that she was strong and capable enough to handle things independently. Now Stephanie volunteers her own time with Mission: St. Louis, sharing with others that same strength and inspiration that helped her.
At Mission: St. Louis, people of all ages are empowered to transform the people and places in their community. Some residents have spent decades in their homes and have no desire to live anywhere else, but they don’t have the resources, support, or ability to keep up with necessary repairs and maintenance. Even more, homes that are not up to code or in disrepair can pose a serious, potentially life-threatening risk to senior homeowners. Mission: St. Louis’ AMP (Authentic Missional Practice) initiative connects volunteers and residents in week-long individual and community building activities. The initiative addresses immediate home repair needs, but at its heart AMP is about building relationship and community with senior homeowners and residents in the region.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
November 05, 2015
The Saint Louis County Access & Functional Needs Registry is an emergency preparedness program for older adults and people with disabilities. Enrollment is free and open to any St. Louis County resident living in the community with a physical, cognitive, or age-related condition that may impact their capacity to respond appropriately during a major disaster. Visit their website for more information about the Registry. This program is relatively new and is part of the County's mission to promote independence, safety, and well-being for older residents.
Registry Coordinator Elyse M. Murrell, MSW, is excited to spread the word to professionals in the region who work with seniors! In addition to downloading their PDF program brochure, she would be happy to mail or drop off a stack of them for your use. Open this flyer for an upcoming event on winter weather preparedness for seniors. Feel free to contact Elyse at (314) 615-4426 | TTY (800) 735-2966 or
June 23, 2015
Community outreach is the heart of Puentes de Esperanza, and it's what allows them to provide help whenever and wherever it is needed. Every day they receive countless requests for services and assistance from non-English speaking residents across Southwest Illinois. With a fully bilingual staff and a growing reputation as the only service provider in the Metro East serving the limited English-speaking Spanish population, Puentes works across multiple systems in order to help those in need.
When a fire broke out in a trailer park in a Hispanic community and not a single first responder spoke Spanish, Puentes staff was there. They helped the limited English-speaking residents understand the situation, translated between police, firemen, and healthcare professionals, and connected them with vital resources in the community. And when language barriers threatened a young man's medical condition, Puentes provided critical one-on-one support for him and his family. Puentes helped the family navigate the complicated healthcare system so that they would better understand what was happening and he would have access to consistent and necessary treatment.
Puentes not only meets the basic human needs of non-speaking residents in the region, but they also provide opportunities for community advocacy and education. By teaching residents how to do for themselves rather than always doing for them, Puentes encourages a sense of competency, self-sufficiency, and dignity for non-English speaking residents in the region.
Images provided by Puentes de Esperanza