Eldergivers began as a faith-based effort in 1985 to lessen the
isolation of nursing home residents. The Episcopal Church of St. Mary
the Virgin in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood created a
Volunteer Visitor program for a nearby skilled nursing site with a
handful of parishioners. Other Episcopal parishes soon began visiting
other nursing homes in the city, a board was formed and IRS approval
for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status was given in 1989. The organization
started out as San Francisco Ministry to Nursing Homes.
A second program, Art With Elders, was established in 1991.
Between 1991 and 1995 the Ministry became ecumenical and then interfaith and eventually included 30 Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist congregations fielding their own volunteer visitor teams.
Realizing the tremendous need for the visiting program in particular, in the mid-90s the board agreed to make the organization community- based and began recruiting volunteers from corporations, public and private schools and affinity groups (such as the Girl Scouts), in addition to faith congregations.
From 1996 to 2000, Art With Elders gained prominence in the San Francisco Bay Area art scene with high profile exhibitions at the de Young Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Main Library and the Di Rosa Preserve in Napa.
Both Volunteer Visitor and Art With Elders programs were seeded in Alameda County in 1997 and soon sprouted in Contra Costa County as well.
A second art program was added in 1999 – Elder Arts Celebrations – to exhibit the visual arts of students, faculty and alumni over the age of 65 from Bay Area art schools. In 2001, an intergenerational initiative was launched (simply called the A+ program) to link schools with nearby senior residential sites and then pair youth and elder to create inter- generational friendships. And Life Stories – an oral history program collecting the biographical narratives of selected nursing home residents into a series of books – was introduced in 2002. By this time the Ministry had also begun offering its various programs in residential care and assisted living facilities, in addition to skilled nursing sites. Santa Clara and San Mateo joined the other counties with Ministry programs in 2002.
At this point, the Ministry’s board realized that although the organization’s mission had remained substantially the same since its founding in 1985, the name no longer accurately reflected it’s geographic and programmatic reach. After several months of spirited discussion, board and staff agreed to change the name to Eldergivers. The IRS approved the change in 2002.
Art With Elders doubled in size from 2000 to 2006 and by 2008 the board became concerned that the organization was spreading its human and financial resources too thin.
During a strategic planning session in July of 2008, board and staff concluded that it would be in the best long-range interest of the organization to focus only on the high profile Art With Elders program and to drop (at least for now) the other programs – a prescient move given the economic downturn that became very apparent in September of that year and continues today. Also in 2008, Eldergivers reiterated its commitment to lessening the isolation of the elderly but stated the mission in a more positive form – connecting the generations through programs that celebrate the wisdom, talents and creativity of older adults.
Eldergivers observed its 25th anniversary in July of 2010. The board’s goal for Art With Elders in the next three years is to again double the number of facilities that host the program and the number of elders who have access to it.
Through almost two and a half decades, Eldergivers has created programs that have successfully fulfilled its mission. And it has been generously supported by an expanding cast of friends and supporters. Thousands of seniors have benefited from initiatives that celebrate their unique experience and their substantial gifts, and, in turn, the community is benefiting tremendously from their continued active presence.
Looking ahead to the next 25 years, those of us associated with Eldergivers’ are excited about the prospects of tapping the treasures that a burgeoning senior population makes available to us. We hope you’ll be part of our future.