By Ken Stewart
Senior Voice 

Juneau program connects friends with seniors


March 1, 2021 | View PDF

Courtesy of Friends of Seniors

Ward Lamb and Friend of Seniors volunteer Jenni Ebersberger show off their baking project. Friends of Seniors pairs volunteers with seniors in the Juneau community who need assistance.

Friends of Seniors, Catholic Community Service (CCS) Juneau's latest volunteer program, addresses gaps in community care. The program matches senior participants age 60 and older with local volunteers to assist with non-medical, advocacy and daily support care. Friends of Seniors supports seniors with a variety of needs, and the only requirement is the age limit: anyone needing support can participate.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic settled in last March, Jennifer Carson, Director of Home and Hospice Care for CCS Juneau and Janna Auger, Friends of Seniors Volunteer Program Manager, had been planning on instituting the program to fit community care needs as flexibly as possible.

"When the pandemic hit, some of the other home and hospice care services started to limit their offerings, so Janna and I thought it was a good time to pilot the program, as we had already started to put some of the pieces together," said Carson.

Friends of Seniors offers 13 categories of care, including emergency and COVID planning, companionship visits, patient advocate services, wake-up and evening services, subsistence hunting and fishing, food prep, medical equipment delivery, light housekeeping and outdoor maintenance, technology support, heat maintenance, home safety, mail maintenance and pet assistance.

"We find that a lot of times that list of 13 categories of care is just an entry into companionship," said Auger. "Someone may ask for light housekeeping components like laundry or grocery shopping, but what happens instead is a deeper relationship between the volunteer and participant that enhances independence, which is really our underlying goal: enhancing independence for our participants and creating community bonding and belonging."

Making technology your friend

Senior participants can ask for assistance with a range of digital to-do's central to our "new normal," including help with logging on to a telehealth appointment.

"One story that I want to talk about that just warms my heart," said Carson, "was when Jes, our volunteer coordinator for Friends of Seniors, went out and helped one of the participants sign on for home health. It was critical that they had that telehealth appointment with their doctor so we could get other services in the home for them through Friends of Seniors."

Friends of Seniors offers four iPads for participant use, another facet of technology support. Volunteers support participants through Zoom tech teaching, helping them connect with loved ones virtually via video chat. The idea is to keep relationships going with family members that can no longer travel due to COVID-19 precautions or to maintain hobby groups via Zoom if a participant isn't feeling well.

Subsistence and traditions

Friends of Seniors also connects Elders with subsistence hunting and fishing assistance.

"I'm hoping this takes off as we get into the hunting and fishing season," said Auger. "One of the important pieces we want to maintain within our community is tradition."

In the coming months, Friends of Seniors will be looking for volunteers that can assist Elders in all aspects of subsistence. For those that are no longer comfortable with fishing and operating a boat on their own, Friends of Seniors can connect Elders with a volunteer who will accompany them while fishing. For others that prefer to meet the boat as it comes in and help clean the fish, Friends of Seniors can arrange that as well. The same ideas can be applied to hunting.

"For some people, they just want to have fresh fish or game and cook it, sharing in the reciprocity between giving and taking," said Auger.

People connections

The most beautiful yield Friends of Seniors sees are the companionships that arise. At minimum, all volunteers are trained in home and hospice care, but another aspect of their training - the most human component - seeks to see each participant as a unique and deeply rooted being, an essence that Friends of Seniors staff and volunteers identify as "Friend's Flora."

"We ask our volunteers to find that seed, those branches, what's blooming in that participant," said Auger. "There's a variant of need and ability, so it's not just a matter of us coming in and providing help. Our volunteers learn as much and are equally as growing as our participants are."

Get involved

Volunteers must be age 18 and older, and can be from a variety of backgrounds. There are pairings where volunteers can expect a consistent schedule, like helping with grocery delivery once a week after the work day, or ones that are focused around intermittent assistance where volunteers help shovel entry ways and sidewalks after a big snow. Volunteers can opt to do companion visits inside the home, or participants and volunteers can agree to a no-contact option.

With 18 pairings of volunteers and senior participants and over 60 volunteer hours per month and counting, Friends of Seniors is always looking for participants, but more importantly, volunteers.

"This program is as successful as we have volunteers," said Auger. "When I think about Friends of Seniors, I always think it reflects the personality of our community and the devotion we have to each other."

All volunteers are trained in home and hospice care, and must complete a background check before proceeding. During in-home visits, both volunteers and participants must follow COVID-19 procedures, including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing when possible and utilizing sanitization practices.

To participate or volunteer, email or call Jes at 907-500-3934.


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