A man in the city with his newspaper on a quiet Saturday morning.  He reads of a double suicide.  An elderly couple.  They lived down the street from his home.

The Salvation Army’s Family and Community Services is located on Chicago’s north side just off Lake Shore Drive.  Stephen Lepse serves as its Director.  Below you’ll find his letter from the Fall issue of Family and Community Services News and Notes.  He shares what that tragic story did to him.  I wish all of us in the Army could express our vision as well as Stephen and what we are doing about it:

I had a vision for a new social service ministry model two years ago. It came out of the blue. I was in the middle of my Saturday morning routine, sitting in my backyard lounge chair with my small pot of coffee, my Tribune, my bible and assorted other reading material, trying to catch up on my reading early in the morning before the rest of the neighborhood woke up. This particular morning, my normally mellow Saturday morning vibe changed after reading a small article in the back pages of the Trib. The headline read, “Elderly Andersonville Couple Die in Joint Suicide”. The husband, despondent in caring for his terminally ill wife, took her life and then intentionally overdosed on his wife’s medications. What really got my attention was where they lived. Their house was three blocks south of my home and three blocks north of my church.

I don’t recall ever meeting this couple during the numerous times I would have walked past that home on Balmoral Avenue. Nevertheless, the thought came to mind, “was there anyone that could have reached out to this couple in their time of greatest need?” Since then, I’ve pondered how the community at large can better serve the vulnerable in our midst. As the Director of an agency that works with people in crisis nearly every day of the year, I am mindful of a number of trends:

• At present, and in future years, there will be less government funding to serve the most needy and at-risk among us.

• Even when the economy improves, increasing amounts of government social service funding will undoubtedly go to finance the rapidly growing entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid).

• Many vulnerable individuals are at-risk because they do not have family, friends, neighbors, or a faith community to support them and look out for them.

• Among the many at-risk groups in our country, the senior population will continue to grow significantly over the next two decades. This growth and the many needs of the booming senior population will challenge society’s ability to fund all of their care needs.

In view of the above, Family & Community Services is reaching out to the faith community to step up and take a more active role in meeting the needs of the, “least of these”. Traditionally, the American church has been at the forefront of meeting human needs. However, over time, many of the schools, medical centers and social service programs created by churches were “professionalized”, and gradually moved away from their church roots. In addition, government entities stepped in to become a primary safety net provider of services for the poor. Now, at a time of governmental belt tightening, the public sector is looking to partner with churches and other community groups to work with the vulnerable in society.

Here at Family & Community Services, we plan to recruit and train hundreds of volunteers from dozens of Chicago churches to serve those who have no one else to help them. Space does not allow me to share all the details here, but in short we will be training individuals to provide ongoing support and care to two population groups we work with: isolated seniors with inadequate support systems; and, survivors of human trafficking, most of whom are women and girls who have experienced severe sexual exploitation.

Our basic plan is that once a staff member has worked to stabilize the situation of a service participant, we can transition this client to an individual or small group from a local church for ongoing support. Our staff will still be available to provide consultation to volunteers and to step in should emergency issues arise. While professionally trained staff will always be needed in social services, the missing link for many of our service participants are support networks that can provide regular care and a watchful eye. Many of our most vulnerable clients lack trusted individuals who can provide encouragement, loving relationships, mentorship and practical care on an ongoing basis.

Our first volunteer training with our STOP-IT program was held in July, with more trainings scheduled this fall (please note the STOP-IT article on page one for contact information on volunteering). We plan to schedule a volunteer training to work with at-risk seniors later this fall.

If your schedule does not allow for an on-going service commitment, we will also work to provide one time service opportunities. These include: helping a client move into a more suitable, safer living situation; providing minor home repairs for a client without the resources to pay for such services; helping with one of our fund-raising events; donating items needed by our clients; providing an individual donation to one of our programs; or, conducting a Christmas fundraising drive for us (as was done by my niece Addy –see page four). This year we plan have an on-line kettle opportunity in which you can raise money for us within your network of family and peers, and this can be done right from your computer. I look forward to adding many volunteer staff to our Salvation Army team this year as together we serve those who desperately need our help.

Blessings (John 1:16)