By Crissy Neville
An apple a day may keep the doctor away but having a friend to talk to can be good medicine too. That’s the mantra of the Cumberland County Council on Older Adults (CCCOA) which sponsors the Senior Companion Program to fill just this order.
The U.S. age pyramid is growing older, according to an AARP report. People are living longer and having fewer children. Consequently, there are fewer young people to help sustain them. Many older adults experience loneliness and isolation as they face issues such as the death of a spouse, relocation of residence and separation from family and friends. Seniors are likely to lack the social support they had when they had careers and families at home to raise. Enter the council’s efforts to combat these problems locally with a companionship program that is filling an important niche with the county’s older population.
Established in 1968 as a nonprofit organization, the Council on Older Adults seeks to “help older adults maintain their independence at home with dignity.” Their services are available at no cost for residents of Cumberland County who are aged 60 or older. Of the council’s varied programs, including Meals on Wheels, a Home Improvement Service, a Congregate Lunch and In-Home Aide Services, the Senior Companion initiative is one of the newest and fastest-growing in popularity.
Companions are volunteers ages 21 and up who agree to provide companionship through regular home visits with council clients. While some companions may visit weekly to chat and check in on their paired older adult, other volunteers may come more often and perform duties ranging from light housekeeping to running errands. The hours given and tasks performed are dependent on what each volunteer can and is willing to do, as well as the needs of each particular client.
“We simply could not do what we do without our volunteers,” said Dennis Bowen, executive director of the council. “Our most requested programs, including the Senior Companion Program, are all volunteer-run.”
Program coordinator Kelly Moreton tries hard to match the volunteers with clients to ensure a good fit. Bowen explained that from there a plan of action is put into place to ensure the comfort of both parties and to make program parameters known.
“Kelly does a home visit to get a feel for each client and to get to know his or her personality, and his or her likes and dislikes,” Bowen said. “After a pairing is made, she accompanies the volunteer out to the client’s home the first time. The goal is to provide social support to the client and to form long-term friendships if possible.”
Volunteers attend an orientation as well as periodic training courses. All interested volunteers should apply by calling the council office at 910-484-0111 or by filling out the volunteer application at the council’s website. Applicants will be subject to a criminal background check.
The council provides this list of possible volunteer duties that may be involved with the Senior Companion Program:
- Personal Support
- Remind clients to take medications
- Provide grief support
- Assist in reality orientation/awareness
- Encourage exercise, walk with client, and/or provide information on exercise or recreation
- Prepare food, plan meals, label and organize food
- Provide health or nutrition information
- Provide companionship, talking, listening, cheering up, playing games or cards
- Home Management
- Write letters, read, assist with filling out forms
- Complete light housework tasks
- Light gardening
- Information and Advocacy
- Provide information about community services
- Assist with obtaining eligibility for services
- Bring unmet needs to the attention staff and other care providers
- Respite Care
- Assist homebound clients served by caregivers who are in need of respite care
You may ask, why volunteer? Individuals who volunteer in the community reap many benefits. As a Senior Companion, you can learn a new skill and teach it to others, build self-esteem and self-confidence, improve your health, meet new people and make new friends, share your passion, and make a difference in the lives of senior adults.
If you are interested but feel uncertain about committing, the council’s in-service sessions will help you learn about resources, programs and health tips for the elderly that may put your doubts at ease. Other benefits for volunteers include mileage reimbursement, supplemental volunteer insurance, and recognition for your service.
Client Linda Morrow has been served by the Senior Companion Program since its inception five years ago. She is a big supporter of the council’s efforts.
“I love having a Senior Companion,” she said. “We are best friends. The program gives me someone to talk with, someone to laugh with. I live alone and am legally blind so having company in my home is very important to me.”
“It is wonderful to know the visit is coming each week,” she continued. “It drives out loneliness and is so uplifting.”
In recognition of the Council’s 50th anniversary this year, the Senior Companion Program has become part of a more consolidated, comprehensive program called Community Caregiving Circle. Funded through the Cornelia “Neill” Bullock Wilkins Seniors Fund of Cumberland Community Foundation Inc. and the United Way of Cumberland County, the new initiative launched on November 1.
The new Community Caregiving Circle addresses four main areas of need for the county’s older adults and their primary caregivers. These are caregiver support, social support, home management support and transportation. The Senior Companion program falls under the umbrella of social support and will continue in operation as strongly as ever.
To learn more about the Council on Older Adults, visit http://www.ccccooa.org/ for more information. Another option is to visit or call the council at 339 Devers Street in downtown Fayetteville.
You may be an older adult, a caregiver or a friend seeking information about local senior resources or perhaps you wish to volunteer – either way, the council is here to help. And come to think of it, an apple won’t hurt either.