Senior Companions: Continuing To Check In During COVID-19 Pandemic

Seniors helping seniors – that’s the idea behind the Senior Companion program facilitated by EveryStep in the Des Moines area.
The program, which is offered by organizations across the nation, matches senior volunteers (55 years and older) with older adults in their neighborhood.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senior Companion program has temporarily suspended face-to-face visits.
But that hasn't stopped EveryStep’s Senior Companion volunteers from finding unique ways to continue offering support and friendship to their clients. For some clients, their only contacts outside family were their senior companions.
Our Senior Companion volunteers have been relying on FaceTime, phone calls and letter-writing to remind clients that they aren't alone during this challenging time.
"Were so proud of each of them for doing their part for caring for each other from afar," Jen Anderegg, Senior Companion program coordinator, said.
Chris Trench, 71, has turned to technology to stay in touch with her seven clients, including FaceTiming one woman two to three times per week to ensure she's okay.
"I talk to each one of them at least once a week," she says, adding that she's sent cards and notes for special occasions, as well. "They are taking it fairly well. "It really does help to know that there is someone else out there who cares about you."
The situation is a far cry from Chris' typical volunteer style since she started with the program nearly a year ago.
Under normal circumstances, Chris would visit her clients in person each week, taking them to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, the beauty parlor, or on a simple drive.
"While I might spend three hours a day with them, I'm still there for them at anytime," she says. "I'll rearrange my schedule to help them."
But that's just not possible now, as her clients are now home-bound for the time being. Still, by keeping in touch with her clients, Chris feels she's at least bringing a little bit of a bright spot to their days.
"I see a lot of things on Facebook on how people need to keep contact with their elderly family members, and it never bothered me before or I never though about it like that," she says. "But it really does help to know that not only your family members are there, but someone else is out there who cares about you."
Debbie Wisecup, 66, recently sent the clients she normally visits an encouraging letter letting them know she's available anytime to talk via the phone.
While Debbie, who began with Senior Companion nearly four years ago, lives in the same building as her clients, she's unable to visit them like normal. They are encouraged to self-isolate in an effort to keep everyone healthy.
That means Debbie can no longer call her clients and invite them to the main room to play games or socialize, she's doing her best to make sure they aren't feeling lonely.
"It really worries me because as you get older the social interaction is important or the depression can creep in," she says. "Some clients don't have any family. I do my best, all I can do is continue to call them and give them my support."
Debbie notes that she calls her clients frequently to let them know what is happening with the Senior Companion program and to make sure they are safe.
"Some clients don't have any family, so I'm the only one they have," she says. "I feel like I'm letting them down by not being there, but we need to err on the side of caution to get back to where we are."
And when that time comes, Debbie will be more than ready to meet with her clients.
"It's the best thing that every happened to me," Debbie says of volunteering with Senior Companion. "I would just say that EveryStep is always there and will continue to be there and here to offer love, support and companionship."