GOSHEN — Laughter spills into the hallway at the Salvation Army in Goshen every Tuesday and Thursday, and it’s only expected to get louder.
Seniors gather there twice a week to visit with friends, play games and eat a hot meal.
“We’re growing,” Major Karen Hanton said, referring to Salvation Army’s senior enrichment program with the Council on Aging of Elkhart County. “On Tuesdays, we’re getting 40 to 50 people, and on Thursdays, it’s getting to be in the 70s.”
The Salvation Army received a grant in October adding up to $250,000 from the Elkhart County Community Foundation to expand services and programs for seniors. The five-year grant marked the foundation’s largest single donation to a nonprofit organization to date. But that’s not all. The Thomas Lyle Foundation matched the grant, adding another $300,000 toward the Salvation Army’s efforts.
“This is a very big change because our annual budget is approximately $400,000 normally,” explained John Huber, chairman of the Salvation Army’s advisory board. “It means an awful lot. It shows us that the foundation believes that we can develop this program for the seniors, and the Elkhart County Community Foundation is really posturing itself to help youth, but they’re also realizing that we just can’t help youth without giving some consideration to senior adults.”
The program’s growth has not gone unnoticed by the seniors who gather there every week.
“We laugh a lot here,” said Colleen Willits, who hangs out at the Salvation Army with her husband on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “It seems like we add two new people every meeting.”
The two grants will cover transportation for seniors to and from the Salvation Army in Goshen for expanded programs that include mentoring, budget counseling and guest speakers who will talk to seniors about issues that affect them.
“They give us a lot of information that would help us about insurance and things like that,” said Virginia Trost, who often visits the Salvation Army with her husband. “You meet so many wonderful people here that you wouldn’t know otherwise.”
Seeing how many seniors come to the Salvation Army for lunch, the organization hopes to serve meals five days a week and hand out food boxes at least once a week for seniors to take home.
The grants from the Elkhart County Community Foundation and the Thomas Lyle Foundation will allow the Salvation Army to hire a licensed mental health worker who will meet with seniors as well as other clients. The Salvation Army also plans to add a new lab with a dozen computers.
“The seniors, they’ve paid their dues over the years, and they deserve to be considered in getting help, especially those that are in need,” Huber said.