At Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Service in South Florida, program directors rely on seasoned volunteers and employees to help older clients with everything from grocery shopping and banking errands to learning to Skype with the grandkids.
How do they do it?
They’ve trained about 130 encore-stage participants – some paid, some not – to work in three programs, which reach hundreds of seniors each year.
First, there’s the AmeriCorps program. Run under the auspices of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and administered by the University of Maryland, the program places “enhanced companions” with elderly clients. Companions commit to 450 hours of service over the course of a year, for which they receive a small stipend and a transferable $1,500 education voucher. Program directors strive to match companions and clients, so the hourly commitment is never much of an issue.
Although the companions help clients with everyday tasks like doctor’s visits, grocery shopping, laundry and hair appointments, research shows it’s the dependable, human companionship that reduces loneliness and depression and improves quality of life.
The West Palm Beach agency’s Ambassador Program is another local resource.
Ambassadors live and work in the gated communities popular with older adults, “talking up” the agency’s two dozen programs. If they hear even an inkling of a need, they contact the agency and help to make a connection. Sometimes it’s as simple as handing out the phone number, or driving a neighbor to her first appointment with an agency therapist.
In addition, AJFCS has a lively “friendly visitor” program. These volunteers, many of them also in their senior years, call and visit clients to socialize.
Jenni Frumer, chief executive officer for the West Palm Beach-based agency, says they’ve worked hard to include baby boomers in their programs.
“We have enthusiastically invested in cultivating and harnessing boomers’ talents to serve our clients, which is a real win-win,” she said. “I believe encore talent will help transform our nonprofit organizations – if we are open to it – and can ultimately make our organizations more robust, richer and more stable.”
Jennifer Weems, director of the agency’s long-term care program, says that peers helping peers is what makes these programs work. Agency representatives don’t wear blue scrubs or carry a clipboard. They understand what’s going on in a client’s life. “They don’t look like an aide,” Weems said. “They’re not in uniform. They look like a friend.” And they are.
For more than 40 years, AJFCS – a nonprofit social service agency that helps clients of all denominations through the most challenging times in their lives – has worked hard to grow programs and meet the needs of South Florida’s aging population. For more information, visit jfcsonline.com.