The Civic Service Institute at Northern Arizona University, which connects volunteers to service opportunities throughout the state, is looking to pair local residents aged 55 and older with seniors who could benefit from their friendship, company and help.
Volunteers in the Senior Companion Program (SCP) perform tasks that allow homebound seniors to maintain their independent living. This can include grocery shopping, driving clients to medical appointments or other outings, and providing a vital connection to the outside world.
But it isn’t all chauffeuring and errands, said Erin Kruse, Senior Corps Programs Project Director. “We had a volunteer who used to go target shooting with her client,” she said, laughing. “They’d set up targets in the woods. Lots of times they’ll do puzzles or go to movies. I know one volunteer currently has a client whose big goal is to go out bowling.”
Nearly 90% of the clients in SCP say their Senior Companion volunteers help them stay in their own homes and that they are more satisfied with their lives as a result of these interactions. Volunteers also are often helping the client’s primary caregiver by giving them a respite from their duties.
However, clients and their caregivers are not the only ones who benefit from the program, said Kruse. “Our Senior Companion volunteers don’t sit; they want to be on the go,” she said. “More often than not, they become friends with their clients.”
Volunteer Martha Murphy, 73, says that she feels she often gets more out of the interactions than she gives because she loves hearing her clients’ stories. “It also means I get to ‘pay it forward,’ because any one of my clients in need could very well be me.”
A recent study about Senior Companions showed that seniors who volunteer get many benefits from the program. The report, released earlier this year, showed that after two years of service, first-time Senior Companions reported improvements in health, decreased depression and less social isolation. They noted the program gave them satisfying and meaningful community service, opportunities for personal growth, a chance to make new friends and a sense of accomplishment.
Clients are referred to SCP in Flagstaff through partner agencies, such as the Northern Arizona Council of Government’s Area Agency on Aging and the Coconino County Health and Human Services department.
Those interested in volunteering with SCP need to be at least 55 years old, meet income guidelines as established by the federal government and be able to dedicate at least 10 hours a week to the program. Volunteers receive extensive training from the Civic Service Institute, including shadowing experienced volunteers.
In addition to the satisfaction of helping others, volunteers receive a tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour, reimbursement for mileage and supplemental insurance coverage while volunteering.
NAU’s Civic Service Institute also runs the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent Program in the greater Flagstaff area, another volunteer opportunity in the region. To learn more about volunteering with Senior Corps, call 866-856-3017 or 928-523-1082. FBN
By Cindy May, FBN