By Rosanny Crumpton
The Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte has been providing essential and valuable services and programs to the 55+ adult community in Mecklenburg County for the past 45 years. They are a non-profit interfaith organization led by its dedicated team of staff, officers and board of directors. Alissa Celek, Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte’s executive director, emphatically credits their volunteers.
“All of our programming is provided because of the generosity of our volunteers. Everything we do is because of our volunteers,” Celek said. “We are just the ones behind the scene.” Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte has five core programs.
The Essential Transportation program provides a safe way for people to get to medical and essential needs appointments. In 2023 they fulfilled over 1,100 rides to more than 160 unique individuals for a total of 10,000 miles traveled, according to Celek.
Their Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) helps seniors gain information about Medicare, long-term care insurance, prescription drug plans, and more. SHIIP is a program of the North Carolina Department of Insurance that offers cost savings to seniors, and also reliable and unbiased information. Through this program, they are given information about available plans and can then choose the plan that best meets their needs. Celek said SHIIP provided counseling for approximately 1,600 individuals in 2022.
The Handy Helpers program provides volunteers that complete small handyman home projects for seniors. The Tax Filing Assistance program helps program participants with tax preparation and filing. The Gen Bridge program is their newest program which links high school students with older adults to help foster positive relationships and create social opportunities.
While Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte has about 125 committed volunteers, they are seeking more volunteers to help them continue their mission and help meet the need of this often overlooked population — light home maintenance services such as changing lightbulbs or fixing doors and other simple jobs.
John Davis recently utilized a handy helper to help him navigate entering his home safely. “They have helped me a great deal. I’m a cancer survivor and I walk with a cane,” Davis said. “I needed a handrail replacement to help me get up and down the steps. (A Shepherd’s Center volunteer) came over and did a wonderful job. They helped me a lot!”
The center also needs more volunteers to help with transportation.
“I just can’t speak the words of their kindness,” said Mary Covington, who uses the center’s Essential Transportation program. “They always figure out something to help me get to where I have to go. They treat you like family. They’re a blessing in Charlotte.”
Understanding the role that social isolation can play in the deterioration of health, Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte wants to develop their transportation program to drive program participants to social events.
In addition to their five core programs, Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte also offers a lifelong learning program they call Adventures in Learning. Celek describes this program as their “going back to college” program. Instructors are committed volunteers that give their time and share their expertise for six weeks.
Celek said Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte wants to offer diverse courses that interesting and speak to a wide variety of people. They also want to diversify the enrollees,” she said. Bringing in new instructors is part of that initiative. Shepherd’s Center also understands that transportation can be a challenge for seniors. They’re trying to work through that and have also relocated their office from South Charlotte to a more centrally located office space.
Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte serves all adults aged 55 and up in Mecklenburg County. There is no income level requirement to participate in any of the center’s programs. All programs and services are free of charge, except for Adventures in Learning which has a fee, but scholarships are available.
To become a volunteer with Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte, visit shepherdscharlotte.org to complete a volunteer application.