Rotary discusses senior companions

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 8, 2015

Even in an era of millions of different prescription pills and continued advancements in robotically assisted surgical techniques and other forms of alternative treatment, sometimes the best medicine is still a friendly face and helping hand.

It is this philosophy that fuels one of the initiatives that the Area Agency on Aging is using to help seniors living in southwest Michigan — its senior companion program.

Matching a senior volunteer with another senior living in the area, the program allows participants in need of long-term care to retain their independence, while still receiving the care and attention they deserve but don’t always receive.

For Area Agency on Aging representative Lila Chandler, her work as an activity coordinator at a South Haven nursing home as allowed her to witness the power that these friendships can have on the lives of those involved, she said.

“I can attest to how this program really makes a difference, not just for the clients but for the senior companions themselves,” Chandler said.

Chandler spoke about the program to the assembled members of the Dowagiac Rotary Club during their weekly meeting Thursday at the Elks Lodge. Chandler has been with the Region IV companion program for the last several weeks, helping to coordinate companions and clients living in Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties, she said.

“We have a fairly strong senior companion program through Berrien County, and some in Van Buren county, but none in Cass County,” Chandler said. “We’re looking to expand into Cass. We know this program has been very beneficial.”

While seeking county volunteers for the program, the agency has been making a list of local seniors who have requested a companion, Chandler said.

In order to become a senior companion, applicants must:

• Be at least 55 years old

• Successfully complete the agency’s pre-service training and a police history check

• Must not have an income 200 percent or more above the poverty line

• Enjoy spending time with other older adults

The main responsibility of these companions is to be just that, a companion for the senior they are visiting. Spending between 15-20 hours a week with the client, these volunteers do everything from helping with grocery shopping and preparing meals to simply sitting down and having friendly conservations, Chandler said.

In addition to getting paid a monthly stipend and mileage, many companions said that the program has given them a greater purpose after retirement, Chandler said.

“They were looking for an opportunity to serve or feel connected again with their community,” Chandler said. “This program is excellent way for them to do that, to feel successful.”