Friendly visits help isolated people remain in their homes

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One morning each week, Janet Monahan visits an area resident; they chat, do some shopping or maybe go to an appointment. 

Monahan was matched with a senior, who is isolated from their community and their family, through the Home For Life Program, operated by Community Connection in partnership with the South Georgian Bay Community Health Link.  

A successful match benefits both the volunteer and the client, said Home For Life volunteer services coordinator Patty Federer. 

The program’s aim is to enable people, mostly seniors and people with mobility issues, to live independently in their own homes for as long as they can. 

“They don’t want to leave their home but a lot of them have outlived their support network,” said Federer, adding that others are estranged from their family, maybe don’t have the financial means to find other accommodations and are no longer able to drive, all contributing to their isolation. 

Some of the people in the program have assistance from personal support workers for specific duties. Home For Life volunteers fill the role of a companion, someone to pay a friendly visit and offer companionship.  

“There is research that shows social isolation is worse than cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined,” said Federer. 

She said people living in isolation tend to call 911 more often and the Home For Life program prevents some unnecessary calls and trips to the doctor’s office. Volunteers help by providing information, and reconnecting them to their community.

Home For Life is unique to this area. The program was initiated eight years ago by local volunteers who saw that seniors living in social isolation could benefit from friendly visits. The program bloomed to 150 matches and although the need was obvious, it was overwhelming for volunteers. The program was scaled back so that referrals now come from a healthcare professional, and a part-time coordinator was hired.

Both Federer and Monahan have a background in social work.

Monahan, now retired, was looking for a volunteer opportunity in addition to her work with the Elizabeth Fry Society, when she had a chance encounter with Federer, a friend and former colleague. She said she was willing and able to give of her time so she signed up. Since last July she has had two matches.

There is a current need for 45 volunteers in this area, with about 30 of those posts being in Wasaga Beach.

The ideal volunteer is compassionate, empathetic, has a sense of humour, is comfortable with people and has some time to spare, said Federer, adding they look to find common qualities in the match. 

Once volunteers are screened there is an orientation and they are matched with someone in the area. 

There are many ways to help. Most volunteers sign up for friendly visiting, which could include a chat over a cup of coffee or going for a walk. Others volunteer to rake leaves, do some yard work, or take the dog for a walk. And then there is support that is offered by telephone, through the telephone assurance program.

Home For Life also organizes coffee socials in Stayner, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach, computer learning cafés and respite for caregivers, because caregiver burnout is also a big factor in allowing people to remain in their homes as long as possible. 

For more information, visit, call 705-444-0040 ext. 149 or e-mail [email protected]

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