“What are we doing here? We’re solving problems. We go from job to
job, solving problems as quickly as we can.”
~Officer John “Sully” Sullivan, “Third Watch”

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the elderly,
sympathetic to those who struggle, and tolerant of the weak….because, at some point in your life, you will have been all of these.”
~Anonymous

A Lake Mary, Florida police officer is making a huge difference in the lives of needy senior citizens. Officer Zach Hudson is the president and founder of Seniors Intervention Group (SIG), a non profit, charitable organization dedicated to sustaining and improving the quality of life for the elderly. The organization brings faith-based
organizations, law enforcement, businesses, and volunteers together to help fulfill the needs of senior citizens who are not capable of caring for themselves.

When Hudson joined Lake Mary Police Department in 2007, he discovered that a large part of the job consists of solving problems. The plight of senior citizens was particularly heart wrenching to Hudson, who was raised by his grandparents, great-grandmother, and dozens of “adopted” grandparents in their senior community.

“Seniors are the forgotten portion of our society that no one really thinks about,” Hudson said. “They are alone, yet they won’t ask for help. It is extremely sad.”

“Patrol officers have to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, then move on to their next call,”Hudson said. “That often involves putting a ‘Band Aid’ on the problem, but we find ourselves repeatedly going back to the same place because we didn’t completely address the issue to start with. For example, we answer a call to a burglary of a residence. The door is kicked in and the frame has been broken. We take the report, but if they don’t have the money to fix the door, the home is repeatedly burglarized, and the residents are victimized over and over again.”

Not all of the calls were crime-related. Hudson observed homes with no exterior lights, burned-out porch lights, broken windows, and missing locks, making them prime targets for burglars. Rotting wood floors and dilapidated, old houses presented safety hazards. Still others were lacking handicapped access for those with limited mobility.

“Many of our elderly citizens are on fixed incomes,” Hudson said. “Some of them live on such a small income, they have to choose between to purchasing food and medication or paying their electric bill this month, because there isn’t enough to cover both. Some have to halve their medication, because it is so expensive; but this can be life-threating. Or suppose their air conditioner breaks down. There are organizations that will help pay the bill, but the air conditioner is still broken. Then what happens the next month? Others need help with lawn service, or with simply changing a light bulb. This is important, because imagine being eighty years old and trying to climb a ladder. If they fall and break their hip, it could kill them.”

“As cops and firefighters, we see people at their worst,” Hudson said. “I came to realize that the senior community was completely unprepared to deal with the types of threats they deal with every day. Many have physical challenges ~such as trouble seeing, hearing, and walking~ that make them vulnerable to the types of predators that prey on them every day. And when you see seniors repeatedly being scammed or victimized, you start to ask yourself, ‘Why? What can we do?’ I got tired of walking away and not being able to fix the problem.”

All Hudson could do was refer people to social services. However, due to the recession and state budget cuts, the help was simply not there, and the needs were never addressed. Hudson discovered that less than three percent of nonprofits are for seniors. So in 2009, with Chief Steve Bracknell’s support, Hudson created SIG as an offshoot of community policing. He would devote at least 20 hours a week to the nonprofit, in addition to his regular duties.

Here is how it works: First Responders refer needy seniors to SIG, or the seniors can contact SIG directly. The request is evaluated and linked to the appropriate Community Partners. The needs are met based on the available resources. Volunteers help with everything from providing transportation, property and vehicle maintenance, disaster assistance, food and clothing, help with utility payments, crime and fire prevention, meals, social interaction, and pastoral care. The services are provided to the seniors at no cost to them.

Once a month, SIG volunteers conduct a “Neighborhood Sweep”, descending upon a neighborhood to do a massive group service, such as yard work or installing light bulbs (donated by Home Depot.). This is another way to identify seniors in need of help.

No task is too small for SIG, whether it is cleaning a dryer vent to prevent a fire hazard; retrieving a prescription pill that has fallen out of reach; or providing transportation to medical appointments. Hudson enlisted help from a bicycle shop to replace the brakes on one woman’s walker, after it slid out from under her, causing her to be stuck in a bathtub all night.

Gennaro Annunziata, 71, couldn’t afford to buy food for his beloved dog. Thanks to SIG, “Lucky” will never have to go hungry. When one woman’s dog was struck by a car, Hudson personally took the pet to a veterinary clinic.

During the holidays, SIG delivers cooked Thanksgiving turkeys and hosts an annual Christmas party for nursing home residents who have no one to visit them. The guests are treated to a live Christmas play, and to a visit from Santa, who delivers a gift for each of them.

To date, over 1,500 seniors in Seminole County have benefited from SIG‘s services, but there are still numerous seniors in need of help. The nonprofit has grown to the extent that in 2014, Hudson went to work full time with SIG; however, he is still a part time officer. He hopes that by focusing his full attention to SIG, the seniors’ needs will be met more quickly and efficiently.

Hudson has received national and local recognition for his work with SIG. He has received awards from the International Police Chiefs Association and the United Safety Council; and he was named one of CNN’s Heroes in 2012. However, he takes no credit for himself. He attributes SIG’s success to Chief Bracknell, the City of Lake Mary, and to the numerous businesses, churches, and volunteers who have been so generous with their time and monetary resources. Although being a CNN Hero did not include a monetary award, Hudson said that just getting the word out about SIG and spreading the awareness of seniors in need is enough for him. He hopes to see SIG replicated nationwide.

“I’m very fortunate to have a chief that embraces community relations,“ Hudson said. “Law enforcement isn’t just issuing tickets and putting people in jail. A large part of crime prevention is establishing bonds and nurturing relationships. This truly is a team effort.”

“Elderly people rescued me in a lot of ways,” Hudson concluded. “Being able to help our seniors is a pleasure and a privilege. This is simply an opportunity for me to give back to them in their time of need.”

For more information contact:
Seniors Intervention Group
1607 Cherrywood Lane
Longwood, FL 32750
Telephone: (407) 790-1948
Website: seniorsinterventiongroup.org

Find out more:http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/05/us/cnnheroes-hudson-seniors/
http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-07-15/news/os-officer-zach-hudson-cnn-hero-20120715_1_cnn-hero-officer-zach-hudson-food. http://www.lakemarylife.com/articles/lake-mary-pds-top-people-person/