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News February 2013

Aid for Age

Florida Cop a Model for Volunteer Help for Seniors

By Tait Trussell

Hundreds of volunteers now make “fix-up” house calls on seniors. Assistance can be as simple as retrieving a medicine pill that has fallen from its container and can’t be found, to repairing  or even rebuilding a senior’s home.

In his 10 years as a police officer, Zack Hudson had seen many elderly people struggling to make ends meet. But in 2007, he was dispatched to the home of two women in his town of Lake Mary, Florida.

One of the women was in her 90s. Her daughter was in her 70s. What he saw appalled him, he confessed. The women had no food and no electricity. They told Hudson that they divided their meager income each month between food and medicine.

“It was horrific,” Hudson recalls. They had to give up taking some medications they needed in order to have money enough for food. In his years in police work, he had seen poverty among the aging. But this case jarred him into a decision to take special action.

“I realized something had to be done” to help the many seniors barely existing in the community. That’s when the idea of a “Seniors Intervention Group” popped into his mind. He decided he would organize a group of volunteers to help the elderly who were strapped in the depressed economy by providing some basic needs for them.

Hudson was raised by his grandparents and great-grandmother, which likely influenced his attitude toward the aging.

“As cops and firefighters, we see people in desperate situations,” Hudson said. As a community relations officer, he said, “You see seniors on a regular basis, and it seems like some are being victimized or scammed constantly.”

“If there’s a crime, police can handle it. Or if there’s a fire, the firemen can handle it. But what happens when a person can’t pay their electric bill, and, as a result, there’s no power, for instance, to run their oxygen pump?”

Seniors with little income often have to make life-or-death choices. For example, buying a light bulb to illuminate the front door, or repairing a broken lock may often fall below a poor senior’s priorities.

“Or when it’s 100 degrees outside and it’s a choice of keeping up your yard or getting fined, you get out there and do it. This one old man I knew worked outside in the heat, but he didn’t survive.”

Hudson formed his volunteers group, which since 2009 has tended to many basic needs of nearly 1,000 seniors in Florida’s Seminole County. The organization became an official non-profit, charitable organization in 2009. By 2011, it expanded to include the whole county.

The group partnered with local businesses, churches, and other non-profits. Hundreds of volunteers now make “fix-up” house calls on seniors. Assistance can be as simple as retrieving a medicine pill that has fallen from its container and can’t be found, to repairing or even rebuilding a senior’s home. All the group’s services are free, and costs are covered by donations.

Once a month, the organization schedules an event in which dozens of volunteers descend on a neighborhood to serve the needs of those too old to handle the chore themselves. Services usually range from yard clean-ups to installing efficient lighting.

One of the county’s seniors, Ralph Anderson, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran had worn a hole in his bathroom floor, making him vulnerable to an accident. It also was difficult for Anderson to leave his house. He had to rely on others to walk his dogs. Volunteers from Hudson’s group replaced and retiled his bathroom floor, fixed a leaky kitchen faucet, and installed a wheelchair ramp to his front door so he could exit and walk his dogs himself.

Hudson’s compassion for the elderly undoubtedly was influenced by his upbringing by his grandparents. “Elderly people helped me in a lot of ways,” Hudson recalled. “They taught me respect and many other things” This is “just an opportunity to give back to them in their time of need, which is here and now.”

Hudson would like to see his non-profit model replicated across the country. “We need more organizations, more businesses, more churches, more police and fire departments to get on board nationwide.”

Each day in the United States, about 10,000 Americans turn 65. And, according to the Pew Research Center, by 2030, some 18 percent of the population will be at least 65.

The heavily burdened economy has touched practically every American. And some seniors often have been hardest hit. That’s why police officer Hudson’s organization has been a successful solution to problems of many elderly in Seminole County, Florida, and with no addition to our national debt or deficit.


(Much of the story of Hudson’s organization was originally reported on CNN.)


Tait Trussell is an old guy and fourth-generation professional journalist who writes extensively about aging issues among a myriad of diverse topics.

Meet Tait