NEWPORT – The NEK Council on Aging recently celebrated the accomplishments of 15 local “Senior Companions,” who help elderly residents live at home with as much autonomy as possible and for as long as possible.
Last year, 51 appreciative men and women throughout the Northeast Kingdom received 12,880 hours of undivided attention by these Senior Companions, who choose to help those considerably older than themselves live in the familiarity of their own homes rather than in an institutional setting.
They provide a few hours a week of respite so an adult child taking care of a widowed parent with dementia can get a haircut, mow the lawn, clean the house, or stack wood.
Activities often include a weekly excursion to the grocery store with an elderly resident who no longer drives and has no family living locally, playing a game of chess, or going for an afternoon drive for ice cream that helps melt away hours of isolation.
The program is a foundation stone in results-driven outreach done by the NEK Council on Aging.
There is mounting evidence that seniors who regularly volunteer have a lower risk of heart disease and live significantly longer than those who don’t, said Meg Burmeister, the Council’s Executive Director.
“Service gives our many volunteers a renewed purpose in life,” she added.
Last year, clients received nearly five hours a week of convivial exchanges or breaks from the routine of caring for someone else, totaling 252 hours of emotional comfort and assistance.
For their part, the Senior Companions drove an average of 30 miles a week, regardless of the weather, traveling 76,464 miles throughout Orleans, Essex and Caledonia counties.
For this, they receive mileage reimbursement and a small non-taxable stipend. The starting age is 55.
“It’s a great program for getting everyone out and about and participating in their communities,” said Patty Beckwith, Senior Companions Coordinator, referring to the dual benefits for both companions and their clients. “The rural nature of the Northeast Kingdom means a lot of people live far away from daily activities that give their lives meaning. Senior Companions is a rewarding way to continue enjoying life even as you age.”
Beckwith described the current roster of volunteers as a colorful, talkative, witty and caring group who are in the seventh and eighth decades of life.
Photo caption: Attending the lunch in their honor at the Eastside Restaurant in Newport are, from left: Evelyn Shields, Groton; Pam Smith, Volunteer Department Supervisor for the Council on Aging; Diane Sharon, Browington; Bill Lydiard, Norton; Margo McKee, St. Johnsbury; Carmen LaMarche, Irasburg; Patty Beckwith Senior Companions Coordinator; Meg Burmeister, Council on Aging Executive Director; Karen Budde, RSVP Volunteer Coordinator; Howard Odette, Barton; Jeannine Richards, Newport; Ruth Johnson, Norton; Phyllis McCarty, Derby Line, and Louise Lessard, Danville.