In March 1993, the Elder Abuse Task Force was created to address the needs of the Fort Myers, Florida community’s frail elderly who were “falling through the cracks” of the existing social service programs. Monthly meetings, consisting of 30 area professionals, were held to delve into this problem. Realizing that no additional burden could be placed on the area’s existing agencies (many with long waiting lists for the services they do provide), the Task Force decided these needs would have to be met through a community effort. They learned of Robert Wood Johnson Faith in Action Program, Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers (IVC), which provides projects with startup financial funding, organizational and technical support. IVC of Southwest Florida is one of more than 1,200 existing Faith in Action programs.
Statistically, the State of Florida has one of the highest senior populations. Of the almost 400,000 residents of Lee County, 31% are 60 years of age or older. Of that, over 50% are over the age of 70. Yet, Florida ranks 49th in the nation in government funded programs for the elderly. According to demographics received from Age Link, at least 35% of Lee County’s elderly population have unmet social services needs, and this percentage only reflects those who have asked for assistance.
Care receivers often view a government-funded agency’s involvement with suspicion, fearing they will be removed from their homes and familiar surroundings. IVC of SW Florida is composed of neighbors helping neighbors through volunteerism and is not supported by any State or Federal funding. It is available to intervene and prevent a situation from becoming critical.
Volunteers from IVC of SW Florida provide such services as transportation, shopping and chores, respite care for primary caregivers, light housekeeping, minor home repairs, meal preparation, paperwork/correspondence and friendly visiting. Many of the elders do not have family members nearby, or have not lived in their community long enough to have established a neighborhood support system. IVC volunteers often provide the only friendly visiting these care receivers receive. The commitment of the volunteers enable those served to maintain their independence and dignity, and to enjoy an improved quality of life.
Fort Myers Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program (IVCP) received its initial start-up grant from Robert Wood Johnson’s Faith in Action Program in 1995. Three years later it opened sister organization in Cape Coral and became Lee IVC. In 2002, with the expansion into Bonita Springs and North Naples, the name of the organization was changed to IVC of Southwest Florida, which better describes the area being served and future development.
In summary, Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers of SW Florida is dedicated to serving the needs of their community’s frail elderly by offering a program based on a ministry that helps relieve suffering and provides assistance to improve the quality of the care recipient’s lives.