New Volunteers, Clients Needed as Donation Expands J’s Senior Companions Program
An Evelyn Rubenstein JCC-sponsored program that provides companionship and support to isolated seniors is growing both its client and volunteer base thanks to a recent, sizable contribution from an anonymous donor through the Houston Jewish Community Foundation.
The donation allows the J’s Senior Companions Program (SCP) to expand, helping even more Houston-area seniors live with dignity and independence while also supporting volunteers’ sense of health and well-being. SCP is a national service program sponsored by the J that matches low-income older adult volunteers with senior clients looking for companionship. It also provides much needed and welcome assistance for family members who are caring for their aging parents.
“The Senior Companions Program is truly a win-win for volunteers and clients,” said Director of Senior Community Services Walt McFadden. “Senior clients in need of socialization and support find these needs met by volunteers ready and willing to assist.”
Over the past 26 years, the program has helped to address the pressing problems of social isolation for aging adults and the stress and fatigue caregivers can suffer. Many elderly adults prefer to remain at home and age in place rather than move to an assisted living facility. But, care is costly. Depression or illness can also limit their contact with others, taking a toll on their well-being. Strains are placed on adult children as well, who step in as caregivers. The program allows seniors to stay in their homes longer, helps to reduce feelings of isolation, and can translate into major healthcare savings for seniors, their families, the community, and taxpayers.
In the Jewish community, SCP helps to fulfill Tikun Olam, a concept in Judaism defined by acts of kindness that help to make the world a better place. Volunteers—some of which come from a Jewish background—also see their role in the program as a mitzvah, or a good deed.
Volunteers must be 55 years or older and have an income level under 200% of the poverty level. They undergo training and then provide a minimum of 20 hours of companionship per week. They drive seniors to medical appointments, take them grocery shopping or on other errands, and to social activities. They also take care of simple tasks in the home. Volunteers receive a small, per hour non-taxable stipend, paid time off for some holidays, vacation time, and limited mileage reimbursement. Clients are seniors age 55 and older who are homebound, disabled, hospitalized, attending adult day care centers, or generally living alone.
“Often the clients and volunteers are close in age and quickly find common ground that enables them to form a true friendship,” said McFadden. “We frequently hear clients refer to their senior companions as friends they just couldn’t do without.”
One such client is local Michael Dennenberg’s mother, Lily. Dennenberg signed his mother up for SCP several years ago after his father died. “The program is a godsend, it really is,” he said. Lily’s caregiver, Patsy, reads with her, shares meals with her, takes her to doctors’ appointments and even to the hair dresser and the nail salon.
“She takes care of her,” Dennenberg said. “They’re inseparable, and they’ve formed an amazing bond. I don’t know what we would do without Patsy. Having her is a huge peace of mind.”