Our job is to keep people’s spark alive’
Reverend Fred Hassell committed himself to a life of service. At a young age he was led to become a priest in the Apostolic Church; he’s spent the past 42 helping the elderly as director of the Bermuda Senior Islanders’ Centre.
On Thursday a lunch was held at the Fairmont Southampton by the leaders of the island’s various senior clubs honouring him for his work.
The 67-year-old told those present that his motivation for helping others was sparked by his faith in God, personal code of ethics and a responsibility he felt to make life easier for seniors.
He joined the Bermuda Senior Islanders’ Centre when 10 per cent of the island’s population, roughly 5,400 residents, was 65 or older. That demographic has today grown to 10,800, or 17 per cent.
“In the 1970s Bermuda was just beginning to recognise we had this cohort of people called seniors,” Mr Hassell said. “In the mid-1970s there was some bad press around things happening to seniors and some of their needs going unmet, so there was an awareness that something had to be done.”
The BSIC opened as a way of meeting those needs. It began as a lunch club at Admiralty House, offering seniors a meal and an opportunity to get out of their home and socialise.
Today, there are 17 seniors’ groups spread across the island. Weekly meetings take place in church halls and community centres where crafts, speciality speakers and exercise classes are among the many offerings.
Mr Hassell says he’s found the work extremely rewarding. Although it’s a separate hat from the one he wears as a church leader, the roles often go hand in hand.
“My desire to serve God fits in so wonderfully with my job serving people,” he said. “The Bible points out clearly that widows, the children and the elderly are the apples of God’s eye and should be honoured in society.
“That’s a huge responsibility and it’s the business of caring for these individuals that has been a shining light for me. The work has always had a spiritual significance for me.”
Now semi-retired from the church, he believes his ministry at the New Apostolic Church was a heavenly calling.
“It’s a very sacrificial job,” he explained. “As a reverend, I’m involved with preaching, teaching and sharing of the gospel, but it’s something I always wanted to do.
“Most of my school life, my youthful life, I was interested in becoming a priest. Then in the early 1970s I lived on a kibbutz.
“These were collective farms run by the Israeli government and in that time they encouraged young people from all over the world to come and work on these settlements raising chickens, growing avocados and oranges.”
It was an enriching time in his life during which his faith in God was strengthened, but the trip was cut short after the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973. Mr Hassell returned to Bermuda to continue his spiritual journey. It wasn’t soon after that he began working with BSIC. It turned out to be a bigger task than anticipated; money was needed for supplies and transportation and skills in bookkeeping and fundraising were necessary.
“We had to work with government and the wider community to make this happen,” Mr Hassell said. “I’ve been on the ground floor in our efforts from the beginning.
“Today, I assist with the creation of these senior groups around the island, facilitating them and meeting with the individuals who run them once a month to offer support and guidance so they can continue to function well.
“I see what I do as very important. Otherwise people would be at home, in some cases by themselves, doing nothing.
“We have widowers who find support through our groups and can find others who understand and relate with them. So we want to keep this vibrant community going. Our job is to keep people’s spark alive so they keep enjoying life.” Mr Hassell says his work has taught him some important lessons, one of which is that life is short.
“We are only on this planet for a period,” he said. “An unknown poet said: ‘A term of life is set to every man, which is but short and pass it no one can’.
“Our goal therefore is to honour our seniors’ contributions to the island and try to make their remaining years as happy and peaceful as we can.”
For more information visit www.seniorislanders.bm