By Marilyn L. Pinsky
Finding the right volunteer opportunity brightens our lives. Some of us are happy doing behind-the-scenes work. Others want a more hands-on experience.
If you know you enjoy talking to older people and bringing joy to their days, then read on to learn how to be a part of InterFaith Works Senior Services Program.
This article is titled “Paying It Forward.” Given that many of us are seniors ourselves, we can look at this one-on-one volunteer opportunity as being there for us when we are older and find ourselves alone; hopefully there will be someone to experience part of our day with us as we can do for others today.
Lori Klivak is the director of senior services for InterFaith Works. Though her department has five different programs serving seniors, we’ll discuss just two: senior companion and one to one. Both have the same goals, to increase joy and socialization for the clients we visit.
“The programs are similar in that you are a friendly visitor to people who are alone,” said Klivak. “We look for both men and women volunteers, as we serve everyone older than 55 in our programs. Volunteers in both programs receive in-service training, orientation and undergo background checks. Though the training is different for each program, the volunteers in both receive ongoing support from InterFaith Works staff.”
The Senior Companion Program is in Oswego, Onondaga, Cayuga and Madison counties.
Volunteers may be eligible for a stipend of $3 an hour, tax-free, that doesn’t count as income, so would not affect any benefits the volunteer may be receiving. Because of this stipend, the volunteers have to be income-eligible. The clients themselves do not need to be income-eligible.
There is no income eligibility to be a volunteer in the nursing home program.
“Senior companions do all the things an adult child or neighbor would do, but for the majority of the people being visited, they don’t have those people in their lives anymore. You would have conversations just as you would with any friend, share your hobbies, perhaps make a light meal together,” Klivak said. “If you choose, you can also provide transportation to appointments and errands.”
“Volunteers can also serve as a respite for family caregivers. They would come on a regular schedule to allow the partner or adult child primary caregiver some time off to take care of their own needs. In this situation, the volunteer would provide a minimum of at least four hours a week of respite hours.
“We are looking for people who really want an active volunteer commitment of 15 hours a week or more,” said Klivak. “A volunteer may have two or three clients within those hours.”
I asked Klivak what her ideal volunteer looks like.
“They see themselves as someone who likes to make connections with other people and who understands the situation. They often have served in some other similar capacity, such as a home health aid, or a caregiver to an older parent or aunt. They are looking for friendship and connection themselves and feel comfortable caring for new people in their lives. Many volunteers are religious and see this work as their calling and as ‘paying it forward’. They come from a place of love, care and generosity,” she said.
The nursing home component is called One to One and is just in Onondaga County. Though it has been a tough couple of years with COVID-19, nursing homes are now allowing volunteers back into the buildings.
Volunteers are matched with nursing home residents who don’t have visitors on a regular basis. The visits are usually about an hour a week. Volunteers and clients just talk and share joys and sorrows. And as we all know, if things are hard, just talking helps.
“We ask our volunteers to be almost ambassadors, not advocates as that is another program, the ombudsman program. They encourage a positive aura around the resident and brighten the day of staff by also recognizing how difficult their jobs are too,” Klivak said. “You would act like the adult child would: ‘Hi nurse Mary, how’s your day?’
“We also recruit volunteers to do social events and other group activities. For instance, in the spring we plant seedlings for vegetable gardens and help to beautify outdoor spaces. Once a month we bring elementary students in to do crafts and play games with the residents. As music and memory are connected, our volunteers help people experiencing dementia to reconnect through the power of music.”
If either of these programs sounds like the right volunteer opportunity for you, contact Klivak at LKlivak@ifwcny.org or 315/449-3552 ext. 109.