PROVIDENCE — Since Bishop Thomas J. Tobin established the Lumen Gentium Awards Banquet in 2013, the annual celebration honoring individuals and groups for their exemplary service to the Church has raised more than $200,000 in support of ministries serving the needs of children, the homeless and the impoverished throughout the state.
Proceeds from this year’s banquet, to be held May 18 at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, will benefit Catholic elder care in Rhode Island by supporting the ministries of Fruit Hill Adult Day Services for the Elderly, operated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in North Providence, and St. Martin de Porres Center, a diocesan senior center located in Providence’s West End neighborhood.
Fruit Hill Adult Day Services opened in 1973 when the sisters living in the North Providence neighborhood recognized a need for comprehensive, daylong care for the elderly. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary had maintained a presence in the Fruit Hill neighborhood since 1917, when a group of sisters established a convent and began work in the religious education and communications ministries.
“Forty-plus years ago, none of the senior centers were in existence,” explained Sister Barbara Dopierala, FMM, head nurse at Fruit Hill Day Services, during a recent visit to the facility. “Our center was opened because of the need for seniors to have a place to stay during the day.”
Prior to the establishment of local senior centers, many families caring for aging relatives were in need of a place where their loved ones could be supervised during the time the caregivers were at work. Though the past several decades have seen an increase in the number of resources available to seniors, many families continue to choose Fruit Hill for daytime services because of the level of care provided. As Sister Barbara explained, many of the center’s patients require professional nursing care but are not ready to move to a full-time nursing facility.
“[Our patients] wouldn’t be accepted in other senior centers,” she said. “We have basic medical care here for them. The families who bring them here are comfortable with the care.”
Among the services offered at Fruit Hill are recreational activities, routine nursing care, lunch, daily Mass, transportation and case management. Many of the center’s patients experience Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and require constant supervision. According to Sister Barbara, social interaction with staff, volunteers and other patients is especially important in these cases, as active engagement with others can help slow the progress of the disease.
“They’re able to really talk,” she said. “You might be surprised what comes out. We have daily miracles here.”
Just over the line in Providence’s West End, the St. Martin de Porres Center serves a diverse population of seniors, offering case management, political advocacy, health screenings, fitness classes, Bible study and recreational trips, among other services. Founded in 1954 as a community center by Father Anthony Robinson and local leaders, the St. Martin de Porres Center has a long history of serving some of the state’s most vulnerable elderly citizens. It has the distinction of being one of the oldest senior centers in Rhode Island, as well as the first in the Northeast to serve a primarily minority population. Today, the St. Martin de Porres Center continues to serve an ever-changing neighborhood under the leadership of Director Esther Price, who spoke about the center’s mission during a recent interview with Rhode Island Catholic.
“This can be sort of a one-stop place for [seniors],” she said. “Some of them don’t have family, but they come here and see that we’re for their best interests. We’ve built up trust.”
The St. Martin de Porres Center has a regular membership of about 350 senior citizens, but, through various outreach programs and activities, provided services for close to 9,000 during the last calendar year. As the baby boomer generation retires and lack of resources forces some other senior centers to close their doors, the demand for elderly services in Providence has increased dramatically during the past several years.
According to Price, the St. Martin de Porres Center provides an essential resource to the community by advocating not only for the needs of seniors, but for their family members as well. “Seniors don’t come in a vacuum,” she explained. “They come with children, caregivers, family.” The center frequently engages youth and family volunteers to assist with its programs and activities, an arrangement that can be mutually beneficial to all involved.
“We like to bring young people in, because [the seniors] like to see young people in school,” said Price. “They love to encourage those guys and speak with them.”
Gail Daniel, an 81-year-old Providence native, has been a member of the St. Martin de Porres Center since 1980. Like many of the center’s members, she helps provide support to other seniors as she is able, assisting with the Meals on Wheels program for homebound seniors and arranging bus trips.
“I come here because it keeps my mind active,” she said. “I love the people, I love the place. It keeps me going.”
The Lumen Gentium Awards Banquet will be held on Wednesday, May 18 at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln. Information on purchasing tickets to the dinner is available at www.dioceseofprovidence.org/lumen-gentium-awards. The deadline to purchase tickets is Friday, May 13.
Nominations for the Lumen Gentium awards
Award nominations are open online through Friday, Feb. 12. Groups, organizations and individuals – laity, clergy and religious – who have demonstrated outstanding service to the Church are eligible for consideration for an award. All nominees will be reviewed by the Lumen Gentium Awards Committee and final recommendations will then be submitted to Bishop Tobin for approval. Please visit www.cvent.com/d/0rqb0l to submit a nomination.