Older adults reinforcing The Salvation Army in Nashville

By: David Ibata

A partnership between The Salvation Army and an advocacy organization for older adults works two ways in Nashville, Tennessee: The Army gets help with projects like the Red Kettle Campaign and Angel Tree, and the volunteers get the satisfaction of doing good for the community.

“People need to be valued and have a purpose in their lives by being involved,” said Robin Johnson, director of volunteer engagement for FiftyForward, a nonprofit founded in 1956 to provide programs and services for adults 50 years old and older and their families in Middle Tennessee.

With the FiftyForward RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), “our mission is to support, champion and enhance life for those 50 and older, so keeping older adults connected to their communities through volunteer service is a big part of my job, by arranging volunteer projects,” Johnson said.

Five years ago, residents of Dandridge Tower, a senior apartment building, started working with The Salvation Army Nashville Area Command as Angel Tree helpers. To date, 21 people have come out to serve at various times. These volunteers themselves are Angel Tree recipients, “so it is so meaningful for them to be part of this Nashville tradition,” Johnson said.

This year, on Oct. 2, eight Dandridge residents helped prepare kettle kits to go out with Red Kettle Campaign bell ringers in December – folding and packing T-shirts along with handbells and candy packets. Some also sanded down and spray-painted metal kettles.

Working in an Angel Tree warehouse requires lifting and carrying, tasks that were getting to be too much for some, Johnson said. “The staff at The Salvation Army has been really great working with me to find a project where volunteers can sit around a table and do something. That’s why our project this year was the kettle kits.”

“When FiftyForward arranges these opportunities and I drive a bus over there to pick everyone up – we always go out to lunch afterward, a big treat for everybody – they really enjoy being needed, a chance to be part of something big,” Johnson said.

Volunteering has been correlated with positive health outcomes, particularly for older persons, she said. “By working with us to help arrange these volunteer opportunities, The Salvation Army is really also serving these older adults by providing them with opportunities to help them be connected, have a purpose and provide value. That’s why I think these projects are so popular with the Dandridge Tower community.”