For more than 40 years, Northeast Senior Services has acted as a hub for seniors in Northeast Minneapolis and the surrounding cities of St. Anthony, Columbia Heights and New Brighton.
Founded by a group of 11 churches and community organizations in 1973, the nonprofit was formally incorporated in 1975 with a mission of “helping seniors live independently with dignity” by providing them with integral services while building community. Since its founding, the organization’s biggest and most popular service has been its rides program.
“When [Northeast Social Services] was started, churches took care of their elders,” explained executive director Kay Anderson. “As a child, I remember my parents stopping to pick up two elderly ladies on the way to church. The social structure provided by churches helped elders stay engaged in the community.”
But surveys show Americans are less connected to churches than they once were.
In a 1992 Gallup Poll, 70 percent of respondents identified themselves as members of a church or synagogue, a rate that dropped to 54 percent in 2015. The Pew Research Center reports the percentage of adults describing themselves as religiously affiliated dropped six points — to 77 percent — between 2007 and 2014, and of those who said they were religiously affiliated, 37 percent were attending church just a few times a year or less in 2014.
On a local level, of Northeast Social Services’ 11 founding churches, only three — Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church and Salvation Army Church — remain.
“With the shrinking numbers of people in churches, the people who cared for elders years ago are now finding themselves not quite as connected to the community as the people before them,” Anderson said. “That’s why the work that we do is so important — the churches could be gone tomorrow.
“When your social network is your church and your kids move out of state, you don’t have a lot of options.”
Though its rides program is its primary service, Northeast Social Services provides much more than free rides. Housed in the Autumn Woods senior living facility in St. Anthony — a city whose population is more than one-fifth 65-plus, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thanks to its wealth of senior housing — the organization answers about 1,500 phone calls a year regarding everything from questions on Medicare to housing assistance.
“We don’t know what questions are going to come in the door,” Anderson said. “Today we were dealing with someone who was living out of their car because they were discharged from the hospital and doesn’t have a place to live. We huddle around the office and come up with the best possible resources for them we can find.”
Activities and resources provided by Northeast Senior Services are listed in a monthly newsletter produced by the organization that is mailed to its members. The brochure also includes notifications of important deadlines such as Medicare open enrollment, options for low-cost medical equipment and listings of additional senior services and resources provided by outside groups, including seminars on caring and coping with dementia, income tax filing assistance and fitness classes.
Every few years, the organization surveys its seniors to find out what kinds of resources are lacking in the community. That has led to the creation of additional programs, such as Medicare health insurance counseling in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging (MAAA), an annual gadget fair, senior housing tours, a weekly walking group at Bottineau Park’s indoor track and a monthly foot clinic that provides foot care for $30 a service (think a pedicure minus the nail polish).
These services not only give area seniors the tangible resources they need, it helps provide them with a sense of community and wellness. Said Anderson, “We have a pastor who attends our foot clinics who says, ‘I feel like I’m walking on air when I walk out of here.’”
Northeast Senior Services
2580 Kenzie Terrace, Suite 2A, St. Anthony
Year Founded: 1973
By the numbers
Approximate number of phone calls answered per year: 1,500
Rides provided in 2015: 1,236
Volunteers currently serving the organization: 83
Seniors served by the foot clinic in 2015: 115
Health insurance counseling appointments given in 2015: 30
Housing tours given in 2015: 23
What you can do
Donate online. Funds help with the costs of operations and supplies.
Volunteer. Sign up as a driver for the organization’s rides program, volunteer for newsletter assembly or sign up as a community resource specialist to help answer phone calls at neseniors.org.
Attend a fundraising event. The organization hosts various events throughout the year to raise funds. Follow neseniors.org or sign up for the newsletter for its next event.