New center encourages living life fully

On the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, just shy of Milwaukee, in the city of Oak Creek, Wis., The Salvation Army has opened a new senior center. It is the culmination of several years of research and prayer by the Oak Creek Corps about how they could expand their ministry and make a significant difference in their community.

Complementing the Booth Manor senior residence next to the corps, the new program is dedicated to helping address the growing crisis of senior isolation and lack of resources to prolong independence among older adults. In designing it, the corps looked at gaps in service and had touchpoints with the local government, other agencies and families. It is fully accessible and inclusive.

Major Jennifer Woodard greets guests at the grand opening.

“The center is designed to meet the needs of our area’s aging population who may or may not have financial resources to participate in other programs,” said Captain Dana Bigelow, Oak Creek corps officer with her husband, Captain Jason Bigelow. “The main objective is to enhance and enrich the lives of seniors in our community.”

Open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the center offers a full calendar of opportunities. Older adults may participate in educational and financial lectures, health and nutrition workshops, arts and crafts, music therapy, support groups like a Memory Café, Bible studies and book clubs, and a weekly hot lunch with the captains called Soup for the Soul.

“The center is the door through which seniors and their families can discover the broader array of what the corps offers,” said Captain Dana, indicating as well how the staff work seamlessly together to have the most impact.

Captains Jason and Dana Bigelow, Oak Creek corps officers, with Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson

For instance, an onsite food pantry is available for those who suffer from food insecurity and there are additional opportunities for fellowship with women’s or men’s ministries, more Bible studies, and joining in the corps’ Wednesday evening family dinner led by Corps Sergeant Major Ken Tregellas.

According to Nicole Gosia, senior ministries program manager, the senior center program is flexible and responsive to what the older adults say they want and need. Each person’s voice is heard and

“For me, it’s all about building relationships,” she said. “I want them to feel important, to know they are seen and loved.”

Nicole envisions the future could include fun-themed events at the center and outings to places like farmers markets.

“There is still a lot of life to be lived,” she said.

Eventually, Captain Dana said they would love to add a program aide and nurse on staff and offer transportation for older adults not only to the program but to their appointments.

Nicole Gosia serves guests.

The program is partially funded by a Thomas Lyle Williams Fund grant which is awarded by the territory to outstanding new Salvation Army endeavors each year throughout the Midwest. Funding must be matched locally at a certain amount, showing both community need and support.

“Thanks to a variety of our community partners, we were able to demonstrate and verify the need for
this sort of programming for seniors in our area and able to raise the matching funds required for eligibility for a Thomas Lyle Williams grant,” indicated Captain Jason. “We are thrilled to include this program alongside the other services we provide to people of all ages all year long.”




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