From childhood, Jeff Bird has had a soft spot for the elderly. The son of two only children, he was drenched in his grandparents’ love. He was active in an East Atlanta adopt-a-grandparent program. And he managed the local Kroger when the company launched “Senior Citizen 5% off Wednesdays.” That, Bird says, was a different experience. And one that softened his heart for aging people.
How did you develop a heart for older people?
Growing up, I enjoyed an abundance of love from my grandparents, and I looked forward to their visits. I remember at the end of holiday meals, instead of leaving the table to play, I hung around to hear their stories and jokes. When the Lord took them home, I felt drawn to minister to older adults.
In 1991, my wife and I adopted a sweet, 78-year-old woman in East Atlanta as part of an adopt-a-grandparent program. At the time, I was also managing a grocery store in an Atlanta neighborhood with a large senior population. As I ran around the store, I answered questions, reached cans on the top shelf, refilled their coffee or doughnuts, or just talked about their day. I realized again how much I enjoyed them.
In 2003, my heart led me away from managing grocery stores to managing senior living communities. Two burdens emerged: 1) the seniors’ eternal spiritual condition, and 2) pursuing excellence as a senior service provider. I responded by launching a consulting practice in 2012, which became Parkview Aging Services in 2016. My practice equips overwhelmed families, builds partnerships with trustworthy caregivers and resource providers, and mobilizes the church to advance God’s kingdom.
As you care for older people, what warms your heart most?
Just sitting down to chat over coffee with the senior. Our time together is filled with stories and laughter. If the senior is lonely or hurting, I love telling them one of my own family stories, or I just remind them Jesus loves them.
I also enjoy bringing in the family of seniors. I can use my experience and spiritual gifts to lower the stress they feel from deciding how to manage both the senior’s needs and their own. This helps the family honor and enjoy their aging loved one, seeing it as an invaluable stage of life, rather than as a burden.
Given your experience, what perceptions and attitudes toward the elderly need to be changed?
Productivity defines our lives, so ageism stereotypes older adults. Seniors’ abilities decline, and adult children are reminded of their own mortality. The adult children’s own fear of aging can unintentionally isolate their aging loved one.
We know God has a purpose in all things, Aging offers an opportunity to share the Good News with older adults, families, caregivers, and resource providers.