The Salvation Army in partnership with the Corporation for National Service allows volunteer opportunities for low-income seniors through the Senior Companion Program. It began in 1968 with a Congressional interest in a program where senior citizens would be giving and receiving service. In August of 1974, the program was funded in New Jersey, by ACTION, the then Federal Domestic Volunteer Agency. In 1994, the programs of ACTION were formally transferred to the Corporation for National Service. To qualify seniors must be 60-years-old, or older, and they must be 125% below the poverty level as established by the Department of Health and Human Services. Senior Companions volunteer 20 hours per week and receive a tax-free stipend of $2.55 per hour and other benefits.
Senior Companions provide special care to other feeble seniors who are at risk of institutionalization. There are about 17,000 frail seniors in Essex and Hudson counties in New Jersey suffering from osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Alzheimer’s Association. These seniors are in need of in-home care, because most do not attend adult day-care facilities or receive adequate home health aide assistance. The 1989 National long-term Care Study found that there were 3,454 seniors with acute medical disabilities, inclusive of cardiac problems, physical disabilities, and amputations who attended adult day-care facilities. However, they require person-to-person assistance in exercise, rehabilitation, and nutrition. All of the aforementioned conditions can cause isolation and can result in loneliness, depression, drug abuse, and premature death. Those frail elderly, who do not reside in senior residences, are also in dire need of transportation services to doctor appointments and other needed engagements.
During the last year, senior companion volunteers provided in-home care to 157 frail adults. Services like recreational activities, housekeeping, meal preparation, and nutritional information were offered. Senior Companions served in the area of companionship and outreach, peer counseling, support, writing of letters, reading, and talking to 386 frail adults to ease feelings of loneliness. They also provided friendly visiting, reassurance, and bereavement outreach to over 300 adults.
Senior companions also served as the link to the elderly by identifying potential problems, or needed services for case management professionals with over 100 frail adults. They assisted with supportive services and social activities at adult day cares benefiting over 100 elderly. The senior companions also assisted in the area of transportation by driving 15 people needing escort services for grocery shopping, errands, and doctor visits.