Tell us about yourself.
My name is Julie Adams-Buchanan and I am the Executive Director at The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond (TSCOR). I have been at TSCOR over 10 years and have been its director for almost four of those years. I was the Coordinator of Client Services previously, overseeing transportation and other assistance provided by volunteers to seniors in Richmond. I have a B.S. in Sociology/Anthropology and M.S. in Sociology from VCU. I obtained a Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA) in 2013, solidifying my belief in the immense importance of contributions made by volunteers.
What is the focus of your work?
The Shepherd’s Center is dedicated to encouraging the older population to remain active and independent through enrichment programs and volunteer services to their peers. Those programs and services include lifelong learning; transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores; handyman assistance with small, but necessary, household repairs; and group travel on both one-day and overnight trips.
We advocate positive aging, recognizing that older adults have a lot of experience and wisdom to offer their communities and that giving back is enriching and rewarding as well. TSCOR’s mission addresses the social issues of inadequate transportation, food insecurity, and isolation, as well as the need for meaningful social interaction and intellectual challenge through volunteer service, educational programs, and organized tours.
TSCOR provides free services, offered by volunteers, to seniors in our community who, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide those services for themselves. The most important services TSCOR provides are handyman (or woman) assistance and transportation to those who are 60 and older. Handy individuals assist seniors with minor home repairs, like changing a light bulb or a washer in the kitchen sink – tasks that have become a challenge.
Transportation, by far, is our most requested and most-needed service. We provide door-to-door transportation to medical appointments, grocery stores, and food pantries. These rides are given by volunteers who use their own cars with no reimbursement – pretty amazing individuals! TSCOR is one of three remaining organizations still utilizing volunteer drivers to provide free transportation to seniors in the Richmond area (and our service areas do not overlap). Last year, TSCOR volunteers provided 1,264 round trip, rides to seniors.
I never knew how much of an issue transportation was, especially for seniors, until I began working at the Center. The ability to drive is equivalent to independence. Losing independence is a leading fear as people age. For various reasons, older people can lose this independence. Our volunteers help empower these individuals by giving them the control and freedom to secure their own transportation without feeling like a burden to family and friends.
It’s more than just rides. For many of our clients, a trip to the doctor is the only time they get out of their homes and interact with others. We become friends with them and some consider us family. We are their touchstone, their friendly ear, their sound board. Sometimes they just need a kind word; to know that someone cares about what they have to say. Volunteers often report that the one-on-one companionship and support throughout the trip is just as important to clients as the medical appointment itself . . . and important to drivers, as well. Our volunteers often tell me that they get more out of the experience than what they give. As one driver said, “It’s an awesome feeling helping others and you make new friends too.”
The Shepherd’s Center seeks to offer opportunities to get older adults involved, keep them active, and eliminate social isolation. Our lifelong learning program, OPEN UNIVERSITY, offers just that with classes and lectures each fall, winter, and spring. The courses and lectures are geared to those who are 50 and older and are taught by well-qualified volunteers, including both current and retired faculty from area colleges and universities. The subjects range from yoga to opera, languages to literature, history to understanding the stock market. In addition, each class day includes a luncheon speaker, a local celebrity who presents a talk on a topic of special interest. The average attendance for each three-month term is 275.
It is the best bargain for lifelong learning in the Richmond area and if I didn’t have to work, I would be there the whole time! It is like college without the papers and tests. You can just take it all in and enjoy. It is equally enjoyable for our volunteer instructors who get to do what they love to do – teach! They get to share their knowledge with people who really want to learn and they also have no papers to grade or tests to prepare.
We also offer group trips, 2-3 times a year, organized by our Travel Committee. These trips are available to TSCOR members and friends at a minimal cost. In recent years these single-day and multi-day excursions have included trips to New York City to see Broadway shows, Washington to visit Arena Stage and Wolf Trap, Baltimore to see the National Aquarium, Southwest Virginia for a trip down the Crooked Road to explore its musical heritage, and Norfolk to tour the U.S. Naval Base.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I love working with our volunteers. They assist in all aspects of programs and services, helping our clients, teaching our students, running our organization and generally sharing their incredible talents. TSCOR wouldn’t be here without all of them. Their experience guides and forms the work we do every day, and I am continually bowled over by their dedication and generosity. When I talk to a client who says she doesn’t know what she would do without our drivers, or a student who was enthralled with a lecture, or a traveler who has had an experience of a lifetime, I am so proud and honored to be a part of this organization. The Shepherd’s Center model is unique with such a wide variety of opportunities to join in, to learn, and help make Richmond a more caring community for older adults. I am a people person, and the people at The Shepherd’s Center are the kind of people you want to be around. I have learned so much from all of them and am excited about our future together.
I feel strongly about respecting, empowering and caring for our older Americans and I think we can do better. Through the mission of TSCOR, I am able to do a bit more to contribute to that goal and at the end of the day, that is a good feeling.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
We will be celebrating our 35th anniversary in March of 2019 and there are still so many people in Richmond that do not know who we are. It is such a gem of an organization and it has been, and continues to be, my goal to change that. A variation of this challenge is that if people do know about us, it is either the Open University or the transportation service that they are familiar with – rarely is it both. And travel is often a surprise, let alone all the volunteer opportunities. So if you are reading this right now, please help us out and tell someone about us today!
I would be remiss not to mention our constant need for more volunteer drivers. The Age Wave has arrived, with Baby Boomers turning 65 every year and we have seen its impact in the steady increase of the number of requests and new clients we acquire each year. We need to keep up with the demand by recruiting a comparable amount of new volunteers. We have a project in progress to increase the visibility of this need and hope to not only sustain our transportation service, but grow it, in order to serve more individuals in metro Richmond.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
The Shepherd’s Center is not a place or a building, nor a “senior center,” nor a religious organization. I like to call it a “Center Without Walls.” We meet at various locations around the city, and our participants are anything but old – a perfect example of the saying, 60 is the new 40.
But the biggest misconception is that we are a religious organization. This is primarily because of our name (Shepherd’s), although we try to discourage that connection by using sheep in much of our media (AND we have a huge collection scattered all around the office!) TSCOR could be called multi-denominational to the point of being non-denominational. It is not affiliated with any particular religious organization. We do partner with all faiths in the Richmond community, and know that we have the capability to leverage the efforts of congregations and work together to do what cannot always be done separately.
This misconception is perpetuated because our courses and lectures are held in a Lutheran, a Presbyterian and a Catholic church. Here’s something that people don’t think about, but churches typically have large buildings with classroom space that is empty during the week, so we help them put it to good use! It’s a win-win situation.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Lunch and Life, presented in partnership with St. Mary Catholic Church, is a free four-week lecture series on Wednesdays, open to the public and offered at the beginning of each Open University session. No TSCOR membership or Open University tuition is required. Attendees are asked to bring their sandwiches and enjoy snacks, desserts, and beverages provided by the church. Recent lecturers have included Dr. Edward Ayers, President Emeritus, University of Richmond; Ed Slipek, Architectural Historian; John Bernier, Chief Meteorologist at WRIC TV-8; Curtis Monk, President and CEO of Commonwealth Public Broadcasting; Bill Lohmann, author and Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist; and Ray McAllister, author and former editor of Boomer Magazine.
Anything else you would like to share?
TSCOR is an affiliate of a national network of almost 60 Shepherd’s Centers, all of which are offshoots of Shepherd’s Centers of America, founded in 1972 by the Reverend Elbert C. Cole in Kansas City, Missouri, who realized that older adults need meaning and purpose throughout their mature years. Shepherd’s Centers all have a commonly understood mission: to empower older adults to use their wisdom and skills for the good of their communities.
TSCOR is the first of eight Shepherd’s Centers in Virginia. Our Center helped mentor the Centers in Chesterfield and Oakton-Vienna, and the latter mentored five more Centers in Northern Virginia. Those planning, providing, and participating in the services of that first Shepherd’s Center were older people themselves. That continues to be an important feature of all Shepherd’s Centers: older people helping older people.