Seniors Helping Seniors
By Chris Cunningham
Before she became a Senior Companion eight years ago, Angie Good had worked in a machine shop, had operated a punch press, and had raised a family.
But she had spent very little time with older people, because her parents and grandparents didn't live to advanced ages.
Now, as a Senior Companion in her hometown of Cottage Grove, Good provides older people with transportation to doctor's appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores.
"I have learned so much from them," says Good, who always makes time to engage in meaningful conversation with her clients.
Most clients don't have family members nearby, or they have relatives whose work schedules don't permit them to help during the day. Good says she helps "take the pressure off families," by picking up clients in her car and driving them to appointments.
While frail, her clients do not require assistance with walking, bathing, dressing or meal preparation.
Senior Companions like Good "bring their life-learning with them," says Suzanne Huebner, who is Good's onsite supervisor at Senior & Disabled Services in Cottage Grove.
Good "advocates for her clients and really understands the aging issues that they have," Huebner says.
Cottage Grove currently has three Senior Companions, says Huebner, who maintains a waiting list of people needing companion services.
While companions must commit to a minimum of one year, "very few stay just a year," says Beth Brooks, Senior Companion project specialist at LCC. "Companions discover that they want to stay in the program longer because of the strong bonds they establish with their clients."
Senior Companions "are amazing people with big hearts," says Brooks about this federal seniors-helping-seniors program that fourth Congressional District Representative Peter DeFazio launched in the Pacific Northwest in the '70s to help low-income older and disabled Oregonians remain in their own homes.
Lane Community College has been sponsoring the Lane County program since its inception.
Two-thirds of the program's funding comes from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, while local residents, community businesses, and other organizations contribute the remaining third in dollars and in-kind services.
More than two dozen Lane County agencies, including Senior & Disabled Services, Veterans' Affairs, and Health & Human Services, use Senior Companions to help their clients remain independent and to reduce their social isolation.
To qualify as a Senior Companion, a person must be 55 years old or better, meet low-income guidelines, and be able to work 15 to 40 hours per week. Most of the current openings for Senior Companions require access to a car.
For their services, Senior Companions receive a tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour, compensation for meals, and travel reimbursement.
"There is a much greater need than we currently are able to meet, especially in rural areas," Brooks says.