Daily Point of Light # 2159 May 14, 2002

One of the most historically significant events in the current generation of Chester County was the opening of Interstate 77 in 1981. It helped to bring industrial, commercial, and residential development. Aging parents moved there with their adult children with a desire to become close to them during their golden years. However, the demands of raising a family, working, and caring for aging parents often present problems.

Retirees from out of state are choosing South Carolina for their retirement home. U.S. Census Bureau statistics reveal that South Carolina ranks 18th in the country in the number of people over 60 moving into a state. Chester County felt the need to identify areas of concern among local mature adults and develop innovative ways to meet the needs of this growing population.

In 1989, an application for a federal grant was submitted and awarded to provide 20 Senior Companions for the county. Today, 38 income-eligible Volunteer Senior Companions of Chester County are making a great contribution to help solve serious social problems. The increase has been made possible through a PNS grant and the CLTC Medicaid Waiver Program.

Though not trained in medical or technical skills, they offer a most important requirement for being a friend. These 60+ year old, limited income seniors know just how to do that. They are a “special breed” in their field, as they become a part of a team of caregivers. The companions are proud individuals whose early years offered them few opportunities. They learned firsthand to work hard and to be alert to those who needed a helping hand. This generation has a wealth of experience, talent, with firsthand knowledge to share. They seek joy in helping others live on their own. They have a desire to get up, get dressed, and go out into the community four hours a day, five days a week to make a difference in the lives of their disabled peers.

The individuals helped by the Senior Companions receive assistance with important daily tasks, encouragement to remain active, monitoring of medicines/nutrition, a watchful eye to notice when they need extra care, a friendship that can last a lifetime, and respite for family caregivers. The Companions are reimbursed a small stipend of $2.55 per hour and $0.26 per mile travel cost. The stipend enables the volunteers to supplement some of the cost of their daily living expense and allows them to remain somewhat financially independent. The cost for each volunteer’s 1,044 hours is $4,520 (cash and in-kind). What a savings for taxpayers when this figure is compared to the average cost of Medicaid institutional care at $36,000 annually. Meanwhile, the Companions are maintaining their level of health by remaining active and helping others.

"I am quite honored to have the volunteers of the Chester County Senior Companion Program receive the Points of Light award. They are a very deserving group, as they willingly share their time, knowledge and experience to serve disabled clients," stated Frances Stephenson, SCP Project Director.