Many older adults live alone, can't get out of the house, and have no family nearby. This can cause frustration, anxiety and just plain loneliness.
And that's where the “Volunteer Home Visitors Program” comes in.
Run by Catholic Charities of Western New York, this outreach program has been in place for several years in Genesee County and, according to coordinator Jim Morasco, is now getting started in Orleans County after three years of existing in the form of the “Friendly Phones Program” (which has volunteers check in on seniors by phone rather than by visitation).
The program is run through the Office for the Aging in both counties; it is funded by the Muriel Marshall Fund in Genesee County and by a private funder in Orleans County. Available to adults 60 and older, it matches each senior participant with a volunteer who will come into his or her home to provide company and to socialize.
"It's generally for an hour," Morasco said. "When people sign up, they give us times that are convenient for them. We try to match them up with volunteers who have that time frame open."
Coordinators attempt to look not only for time frames convenient for both volunteers and seniors, but also for hobbies and interests that they might share.
Morasco stressed that the program does not entail hospice work -- bathing, driving to appointments, or similar responsibilities – although referrals can be provided for such things.
“(We work in conjunction with) just about anybody that works with people -- anyone with a connection to the elderly,” Morasco said. “So for example, say we go into someone’s home and they need something fixed. We can call Community Action or the Office for the Aging, both of whom have a handyman program. Not long ago, we helped a woman whose furnace stopped working at the beginning of winter get a new one through the Veterans Association.”
The main purpose of the “Volunteer Home Visitors Program” is to foster friendships.
"It's to break up the monotony of being alone," Morasco said. "I always say to people, 'Think about how busy you are when you're younger. You always have something to do, and you probably have a family. And then when you get older, sometimes they move away. People pass away. And all of a sudden you're frail, you can't go out, you can't drive, and nobody's around anymore.' That's where a lot of folks find themselves."
He described these home visitations as "socialization, and also wellness."
"You get to know people, and sometimes they start to look like maybe they need some help. I went into the home of a person I was visiting once and found her lying on the floor. Who knows how long she would have been there if she hadn't had that visit?"
In Genesee County, 52 seniors are signed up for the program at this time. There are 41 volunteers, and six people are on a waiting list. Orleans County currently has around 20 volunteers, about evenly matched with senior participants.
Morasco said he sees both seniors and volunteers benefitting from the home visits.
"A lot of (senior participants) say they look forward to their visitor or their caller," he said. "And the volunteers tell me that they get just as much out of this, if not more, than the seniors. When you give, you receive."
For more information, call Catholic Charities at 343-0614, ext 23.
Photo courtesy of Danette Weaver.