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 running errands, driving clients to medical appointments or other outings, and providing a vital connection to the outside world.
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, according to Joella Willey, coordinator of the program in Yavapai County.
“The volunteers tell me they love it,” Willey said. “It makes them feel good. And they have time on their hands – they want to contribute back to the community.”
That was a big part of the motivation for Rae Ann Lund, 82, who has volunteered with SCP for the past five years.
“I had a very good nursing career for 45 years,” said Lund, who lives 18 miles outside of Prescott. After about 10 years of retirement, I felt that something was missing in my life. I really missed the contact with other people.”
A recent study about Senior Companions showed that seniors who volunteer gain 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.
Willey said that much of that satisfaction comes from helping fellow seniors who are “living in the shadows.”
“The goal is to get the clients out of their houses so they can experience a different environment on a weekly basis,” she said.
Clients are referred to SCP in Yavapai County through partner agencies, such as the Northern Arizona Council of Government’s Area Agency on Aging and the Central Arizona Seniors Association, which provides the local Meals on Wheels program.
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 Yavapai County, another volunteer opportunity in the region. To learn more about volunteering with Senior Corps, call 866-856-3017 or 928-713-4114. QCBN
By Cindy May, QCBN
Cindy May is a consultant and owner of Cindy May Marketing in Flagstaff.