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Beacon Senior News

Senior Companions offer friendship to homebound seniors

Nov 23, 2020 02:08PM ● By Jan Weeks
Senior Companion Program: Carol Rice and Shirley Sneary return from a grocery run.

Carol Rice and Shirley Sneary return from a grocery run.

"You’ve got a friend in me"

For 30 years, St. Mary’s Senior Companion Program has served Grand Valley seniors who no longer drive by assisting them with grocery shopping, errands, drives to appointments and more. Now, during the trying and isolating times of the pandemic, the help that Senior Companions offer is even more essential.


Combating loneliness

Carol Rice, 74, has volunteered with the program for almost three years. Her hours vary, as she can see each of her companions up to three hours a week. 

Rice takes companions shopping, drives them to medical and salon appointments, or just out for long rides so they don’t feel so isolated. She also helps them with banking, paying bills, and other tasks that require mobility or adequate vision. Even more important, friendships blossom through these weekly interactions. 

“You can hear the joy in their voices and see them smile when I arrive. It’s very heartwarming to know you’re breaking their loneliness, and I get as much out of it as they do,” Rice said.

Shirley Sneary, 85, agrees with Rice, who has been with her since she moved in to Grand View Apartments a little over a year ago.

“The best part of being in the program is the fellowship—having someone to visit with, to get out with,” Sneary said. 

Rice and Sneary meet every other week, with Sneary’s relatives filling in by visiting and running errands for her.

This past year, Senior Companion volunteers provided 23,000 hours of service, drove 77,250 miles and aided 207 clients. According to Senior Companions Program Coordinator Tanya Fink, the help volunteers provide keeps clients in their homes longer. 

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. According to Rice, it can be heart-wrenching to see a client go through medical problems or other issues that she can’t help with. But, for her, the positives and joy of the program always outweigh the sorrowful parts.


Friendships during COVID

COVID has affected volunteers and clients, who are both considered a vulnerable population. But Fink argued that the program remains essential. 

“Though some clients no longer feel comfortable going out, the volunteers can still bring groceries to them, or even teach them how to order online,” Fink said. 

Rice said she’s had to change her relationships with clients since the pandemic. 

“When everything shut down, neither I nor my clients wanted to get together. When things opened up again, they were eager for me to come back. Now there are no hugs, and we all wear masks. I may pat them on the back as I leave and say, ‘Consider yourself hugged.’ I have to keep myself and them safe,” she said.

Except for the initial lockdown, Rice has continued to help Sneary while taking the necessary precautions. But not all volunteers have stayed on.

“Due to volunteers stepping down, our waitlist has grown to over six months,” Fink said.

If you’re healthy, active and enjoy helping others, Fink said, “We really need you!” 

The schedule is flexible for Senior Companion volunteers, who must be 55 or older. They can volunteer from two to six hours per week—and if they qualify, they may earn a tax-free hourly stipend plus vacation and sick days. Regardless, they receive mileage reimbursement as well as accident, auto and personal liability insurance for free. Annual physicals and free 55-Alive driving courses are free, too. 

If you or someone you know is 60 or older and still living alone or in a family member’s home, they may qualify for the Senior Companion program. To set up an evaluation or find out more, call Fink at 298-9092 or email [email protected]