Ever wonder how in the world all those giveaways get wrapped or put into bags or boxes for distribution to the public at special events? Those events include the tens of thousands of bags for participants of 1st Place Sports’ coordinated events, such as the GATE River Run, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 26.2 with Donna and Never Quit. Then, of course, there are events sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, Catty Shack Ranch, Dignity U Wear, HandsOn Jacksonville, Health Planning Council of NE FL and Jacksonville Historical Society. And, don’t forget the March of Dimes, Presbyterian Social Ministries, Salvation Army, The Sanctuary on 8th Street, United Way, and Wolfson Children’s Hospital – and this is just part of a long list of non-profit organizations served by a dedicated and very willing group of seniors, known as the Senior Saints, all who are part of Seniors on a Mission (SoaM), an extraordinary and very valuable asset to Jacksonville’s non-profits. It is through this organization that independent-living seniors are given service opportunities, love and encouragement to live longer, healthier, more graceful and purpose-filled lives.Joanne Hickox, a Canadian farm girl, who is the oldest of 42 grandchildren, learned respect for the elderly at an early age. She came to the United States more than 25 years ago, where she met and married Bryan Hickox.
Founded in 1999, as Barnabas International, she began with a small group of seniors making monthly social outings. It wasn’t long before Joanne noticed their strong fellowship and desire to do more for others. She recognized early on that if these seniors were not together on these outings, many of these elderly men and women would be sitting in their homes alone. In 2005, one of the senior citizens suggested they “do some good” for the community on one of their social outings, and this became the start of this vigorous and very caring organization.SoaM connects appropriate work needed by area non-profit organizations to SoaM’s senior-appropriate group-service Mission Trips. These Senior Saints sign up for day-long mission trips to the welcoming non-profit, board a bus driven by a SoaM staff member, and off they go to complete projects for one of the many leading events in NE FL. There are eight teams in different areas throughout three counties. They use churches as bus pick-up locations because they are safe, available parking lots during the week.
Participating seniors are given a safe, indoor location with air conditioning or heating in which to work, just like what you would want for your grandmother or grandfather. Refreshments and a nutritious meal accompanies the service project session. SoaM’s very loving oversight and team-oriented leadership directs four hours of hard work each session during which the group inserts multiple items into tens of thousands of packets for distribution to the community through non-profit avenues in support of major social issues for the Greater Jacksonville community.
The dedicated volunteers complete anywhere from eight-to-10 trips per month, serving more than 60 non-profits to date. During these Mission Trips, the Senior Saints find meaningful work and begin new friendships while lending their helping hands, enjoying an activity that engages their minds, and using their personal and seasoned skill sets, while benefit area charities and ministries.