Senior Companion Program Receives $65K Grant For Technology

EveryStep's Senior Companion Program is taking its virtual abilities to the next level thanks to a nearly $65,000 grant from the Iowa Department on Aging that aims to enhance companionship services through technology.
The Senior Companion Program, which is offered by organizations across the nation, matches senior volunteers (55 years and older) with older adults in their neighborhood.
Volunteers in the program provide friendship, support and transportation to elders in their community.
But that's difficult during a worldwide pandemic. In fact, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, all in-person visits between EveryStep's Senior Companion volunteers and clients were suspended. Amid the changes, volunteers and program leaders began looking for unique ways they could continue to connect with clients safely.
As a result, many Senior Companion volunteers began making virtual visits with clients via FaceTime and other video calling programs.
While the calls have been helpful, not all volunteers have the technology to conduct such visits, and Senior Companion Program coordinators have been looking for a way to expand such options.
The Iowa Department on Aging Grant Opportunity for Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC)/No Wrong Door (NWD) Systems Critical Relief Funds for COVID-19 Pandemic Response allowed for just that.
"The goal is really to mitigate social isolation and develop services to enhance programming for older adults," said Hannah Rivas, EveryStep’s Senior Companion program manager.  "We know technology offers unique ways to address those issues, so why not use the pandemic as opportunity to be innovative and move forward."
The grant will fund three priority areas for the program:
1. Virtual Companionship via teleservice through the use of smart devices;
2. Development of a virtual reassurance program through partnership of long-term care facilities and senior housing complexes;
3. Transportation of no contact deliveries of essential items to homebound seniors and adults with disabilities.
To meet these priorities, EveryStep’s Senior Companion Program will use the one-time grant to purchase smartphones for each of its volunteers. The phones will be owned and inventoried by EveryStep. Volunteers who choose to stop participating in the program will return their phones to EveryStep.

Additionally, the grant will purchase tablets for some of its partnering organizations in the community, such as assisted living facilities or senior housing operators so that residents can utilize the tablets to connect with Senior Companion volunteers.
Rivas said the program is currently in the process of purchasing the smartphones and will arrange for no-contact or small group trainings for volunteers.
"Our volunteers are very excited," she said. "We did a survey at the beginning of the pandemic to see if volunteers would be interested in using technology to stay connected. Almost all of our companions, even if they weren't comfortable with technology, were excited and willing to learn."
While the grant is specific to Senior Companion Program in Central Iowa, another funding option is being explored to create a similar technology program for the program in southwest Iowa.
Interested in becoming a Senior Companion volunteer?
EveryStep's Senior Companion program provides support to adults through regular home visits. Trained Senior Companions help their clients maintain happy, healthy lives. Senior Companions must be a resident of Polk, Warren, Marion, Lucas, or Pottawattamie Counties, be age 55 or older, and meet income guidelines.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Companions continue to serve their clients safely through teleservice Companionship, Pen Pal services, and no-contact deliveries of essential items.
The Senior Companion Program continues to recruit new volunteers! Please contact or call 515-558-9957 for more information.