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Strengthening senior services

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More than 100 members of Arlington Catholic Charities' Parish Liaison Network (PLN) recently gathered at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna for a daylong meeting on "Strengthening Senior Services in our Parishes."

Art Bennett, CEO and president of Catholic Charities, opened the session with a prayer.

The morning's topic was difficult. Bereavement over the loss of a loved one can seem unbearable, but there are ways to ease the pain of loss.

Gracie Ortiz, director of senior services for Catholic Charities, introduced the first speakers, Jim Jenkins and Dawn Beutner from Holy Spirit Church in Annandale.

The two are involved with Seasons of Hope, a Christ-centered support group at Holy Spirit.

Seasons of Hope meets for six consecutive weeks, four times a year in winter, spring, summer and fall. The group has been active for four years.

Jenkins, who lost his wife 20 years ago, has worked with the group since its inception.

"The bottom dropped out of my life," he said of his wife's death.

He said that people who come to Seasons of Hope often feel anger toward God and feel betrayed.

"We focus on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," said Jenkins.

Beutner said that the emphasis of the group is "very Catholic," but "anyone who is a believer should feel comfortable."

Bernie Elero from St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville directs the Good Mourning Catholic Bereavement Ministry, Grieving with Great Hope program at the parish.

It's a five-week DVD-based program that helps the bereaved through the grieving process.

Elero said that bereavement is a journey through a valley of grief, and there are tools that Catholics have that help in that journey.

"We have the sacraments," Elero said.

Finishing out the morning were Judy Taibl and Dave Balferston from Haven of Northern Virginia, a bereavement support organization in Annandale.

Haven offers one-on-one support, plus group and telephone help. Haven is nonsectarian, but is supported by several diocesan parishes.

Taibl said that volunteers at Haven are there to listen.

"God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason," she said.

Taibl said that many emotions come out during grief - anger being the most common. But volunteers tell the bereaved that those emotions are normal.

An important part of grieving is moving on, Taibl said.

"I see body languages change when we say that," she said. "But that does not mean that we do not love that person anymore, or that we have replaced them."

At the lunch break, Ortiz told the audience that Catholic Charities needs more parish groups to journey with those facing the loss of a loved one.

The afternoon session concentrated on repairing the homes of needy seniors and protecting them from financial exploitation.

Steve Poppe, a Knight of Columbus from Holy Spirt Church, represents Volunteers Repairing Homes (VRH), non-profit charitable organization created by the Holy Spirit Knights to help people who are financially unable to make needed repairs to their homes. Repairs are made at no charge.

Poppe said that there is a small group of volunteers and contractors that work on the homes. The idea for VRH came out of Poppe's work at Arlington WorkCamp, the annual diocesan Office of Youth Ministry program that draws hundreds of youths who repair the homes of rural Virginians.

VRH does no advertising; all contacts are through referrals.

Poppe said the group's work is part of the social justice responsibilities of the church.

"We respect the homeowner's dignity," he said.

The final speaker was Fairfax County Crime Prevention Officer Allie Eggers who talked about protecting seniors from financial exploitation.

Eggers said that door-to-door solicitation is a major problem. She said that all solicitors need a peddler's license, and soliciting without one is against the law.

Another scam is phone sales, Eggers said.

Eggers advises seniors to tell the caller that they don't buy anything over the phone.

Eggers warns seniors against placing outgoing mail with checks in their mailbox.

She said people can take the checks and wash them, then put their name on it and cash it.

She warned about credit card skimmers on gas station pumps, suggesting you should rattle the credit card reader to make sure it is secure. If it moves, it could be a skimmer.

Finally Eggers said, "If you see something or someone unusual in your neighborhood, call (the police)."

Maureen Norris, a parishioner of St. Philip Church in Falls Church, said the program was informative.

"We have an older parish, and this is good information to share," she said

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016