Opportunities for Senior Involvement Offer Many Rewards

By Lura Jackson

 

Eastern Washington County is distinguished in many ways: we have the “Eastern-most” landmarks in many cases, we are in the most rural state in the country, and we have the most number of elderly residents per capita within the state – a state that has been declared as the oldest in the union. The last two points – being very rural and having a large number of elderly – can be a great challenge for some community members that struggle regularly with loneliness and isolation. That struggle can be met through the senior corps’ Senior Companion program, which provides a benefit to its clients as well as to the volunteers that participate, including a possible stipend.

The unique nature of Maine’s population and in particular that of Washington County has made it front and center for the “aging in place” initiative, which is the focus of many state-run and nonprofit organizations that are working with the elderly. Most of Maine’s elderly population has grown up in the state, some of them spending their lives in one home or one community. By fostering aging in place, the hope is that Maine’s elderly will be able to remain comfortably in their homes as long as possible.

There are many barriers to being able to stay in one’s own home, including not being able to handle household chores and simply combatting being alone. The Senior Companion program aims to offset those challenges by having a volunteer assigned to elderly residents for 15-40 hours a week (depending on how much time the volunteer is able to commit). Senior companions provide support and companionship by talking and listening with their clients, as well as playing games or reading to them. They foster contact with family and friends when desired and can accompany a client to the doctor for emotional support. Senior companions can help their clients with approved exercise routines, making meals, reading mail and filling out forms, or in accompanying clients on shopping adventures.

While the Senior Companion program as a whole is open to all volunteers who are over 18, those volunteers who are over 55 themselves are eligible to be a part of the Senior Corps Senior Companion program, which provides a regular stipend to those who are 55 and older and who meet income guidelines. 

In other words, if you are over 55 with modest income, and you are interested in helping your elderly community members thrive in their homes for at least 15 hours a week, you could receive additional income for doing so. Those who qualify receive $2.65 an hour, in addition to other benefits such as mileage reimbursement, recognition, training, and supervision.

The Senior Companion program is actively looking for volunteers from its Machias office. To express interest and receive an application to become a senior companion, or to become a client for senior companions, contact Deborah Gardner at 255-3345. 

The Senior Corps, which is part of the Americorps program, has additional programs that operate within the state of Maine for interested community members that are over 55. The Foster Grandparents program is the largest program in Maine and it is best-suited for individuals that are most interested in working with children in need. For more information on becoming a Foster Grandparent, call Penquis at 973-3684. RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) is oriented in part towards those with an interest in the outdoors; its members conduct safety patrols, respond to natural disasters, help to weatherize homes, and tutor and mentor youth. To find out what opportunities are now available in RSVP, call Paula Burnett, 262-7926