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Helping hand: Volunteers assist seniors in need through Adopt a Grandparent 

About a year and a half ago, 71-year-old Jeff Taylor suffered severe injures after falling down.

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"I was in the hospital and I was in critical condition. I was in the intensive care unit for four days and then I was transferred to Mission View Health Center," he said. "While I was there I didn't think I was ever going to walk again because I took a fall and I hit my head. I was in really bad shape."

At the rehabilitation center, Wilshire Health and Community Services contacted Taylor for after-care services that he could utilize once he was released from Mission View.

Since then, he has been using services from the good neighbor program, which is an extension of the adopt-a-grandparent program. Taylor has someone to pick up his groceries, take him to the market, or take him to his doctor appointments—things he can't do on his own.

He said that in late December, a volunteer drove him down to a doctor's appointment in Santa Maria.

click to enlarge SUPPORT Visiting with an older client doesn't have to be about sitting and chatting, it can mean a trip to the grocery store or just a little window-shopping. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WILSHIRE HEALTH AND COMMUNITY SERVICES INC.
  • Photo Courtesy Of Wilshire Health And Community Services Inc.
  • SUPPORT Visiting with an older client doesn't have to be about sitting and chatting, it can mean a trip to the grocery store or just a little window-shopping.

"That appointment lasted 3 1/2, because there was a waiting period, and they were just as patient as can be," he said. "That's the thing about Wilshire, I don't know if it's their nature or the nature of the people that volunteer for them, but they are such good-natured, patient people."

He said that the people he's encountered through the program have made him feel secure, cared for, and have really helped take the pressure of not being able to drive off of him.

Kelly Donohue, creative brand strategist for Wilshire, said the organization found that there were a lot of isolated adults in the community who don't have all of their needs met, whether it's social, emotional, physical, or task based.

This program, Adopt a Grandparent, evolved out of wanting to meet those needs, honoring the concept of aging in place, and having a healthy engagement with the community.

"It really means connection with older adults in the community, and more often than not these relationships that are formed through becoming a volunteer really does feel like you're creating almost like a grandparent relationship with someone," Donohue said.

click to enlarge CONNECTIONS In order to support older adults in their own homes, Wilshire Health and Community Services created the Adopt a Grandparent program. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WILSHIRE HEALTH AND COMMUNITY SERVICES INC.
  • Photo Courtesy Of Wilshire Health And Community Services Inc.
  • CONNECTIONS In order to support older adults in their own homes, Wilshire Health and Community Services created the Adopt a Grandparent program.

There are a lot of different ways to volunteer with the program. Individuals have the option to do "friendly visits," a minimum of a one hour a week visit with an older adult client. The two can chat, play games, or go thrift store shopping.

"Whatever it is that they've found is a common bond between the two of them that's comfortable," she said.

For people who would rather do task-based things, it could include driving clients to appointments, shopping, running errands, light yard work, pet walking, pen pals, friendly visits, tech help, dropping off a meal, playing a game, or reading to a client.

Currently, the organization has 525 enrolled clients with 45 waiting to be matched with volunteers for a friendly visit. Donohue said that not everyone needs a visit, but older individuals who need help getting to a doctor's appointment or getting their groceries also benefit from the interpersonal time.

"We've found that even the task-based work really does lead to a really close bond in the relationship just like a friendly visit does," she said.

Wilshire works to match clients and volunteers based on personality and needs, among other things.

The program serves the aging population countywide so volunteers are matched with clients in their areas.

"If you're a person that lives in Pismo Beach and you want to donate your time, ... we'll help find you someone in South County to volunteer with," she said.

It all ties back to the concept of aging in place—giving older adults their independence and helping them where they ask for assistance.

"We've found that people who age in place, who have their social needs met, and feel connected to the community, live longer, happier, healthier lives when they get to be in their home and get to stay connected with their community," Donohue said.

There are 100 volunteers in the program currently, but the organization is looking for 50 to 100 more individuals to donate their time and fulfill almost every client's request. Wilshire is also looking for volunteers 21 years and older to drive clients to appointments. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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