Senior citizens offered various ways to stay active
By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
Practically hidden from view on the backside of Lemoyne Street in Mattydale is one of the greatest treasure troves of services and information for senior citizens in the Diocese of Syracuse: Catholic Charities of Onondaga County’s (CCOC) Elderly Services. Don’t get caught up in the name: the seniors who go to CCOC’s variety of programs housed in the Salina Civic Center are generally anything but frail and elderly. These are senior citizens on the go.
“When seniors retire, they often think they’ll have so many projects to keep them busy, but often, the opposite is true,” explained Eleanor Carr, Director of Elderly Services for Catholic Charities. “They start wondering where they can go and what can they still do. Our programs offer seniors many opportunities to stay active and independent as long as possible. We give lunch every day and have a library, offer social activities like card games, pool, exercise classes, art classes and we even have a Wii.”
Seniors helping seniors
The majority of services for the elderly that Catholic Charities offers are free to seniors, or if there is a cost involved, it’s reasonable and affordable. Programs offered include Project Fix, a program that allows seniors to utilize the services of trained contractors to complete small or minor repairs.
“All a senior needs to do is pay for the materials and give a small donation toward the labor,” stated Carr. “Considering what repairs cost these days, it’s an affordable option for seniors on a fixed income.”
Additional programs include an Omsbudsman program where a volunteer can become an advocate to ensure another senior in a local nursing home is being cared for properly. There is also the “Friendly Visitor” program that gives homebound seniors the opportunity to receive a weekly visit from a volunteer.
In programs such as the “Friendly Visitor,” long-term friendships are often formed, but the program also provides critical information to Carr that may save a senior’s life.
“Our volunteers let us know if the clients they visit are confused or seem ill or neglected by family members,” stated Carr. “With so many people in our area, we rely on our volunteers to be our eyes and ears and let us know if something seems off or wrong at another senior’s home.”
Every concern Carr receives is followed up, and if special help is needed, Catholic Charities provides it to help keep a senior active and independent for as long as possible.
How does Carr find help for the seniors? “We are pretty well connected,” laughed Carr. “We have a natural network of contacts that allows us to offer seniors information and services for just about anything such as transportation, housing, bill paying programs, health related services or even more difficult assistance with issues like elder abuse.”
One of the most popular programs offered through CCOC is the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a volunteer referral program for seniors 55 and older. The chapter at the Salina Center falls under the direction of Donna Nash, and is a part of a national group of RSVP chapters that are part of Senior Corps, a federally funded program.
In the past two years, RSVP has provided over 100,000 volunteer hours to over 2,000 unduplicated clients. Seniors have volunteered for numerous activities from data processing to delivering meals to the homebound to giving tours at zoos or museums
“To be part of RSVP a volunteer just needs to come and talk to me about what they want to do and what they like to do,” stated Nash. “I help them figure out what volunteer opportunity fits them best.”
“Donna has a real gift of getting the right people in the right positions,” stated Carr. ”The seniors trust her and she has great insight and judgment.”
Nash reviews a list of volunteer positions and matches the skills and interest with each volunteer. The volunteers selected for the position all go through a general background check and depending on the type of position, may be given training. “We have a pretty impressive list of opportunities,” stated Nash. “And we are always coming up with new ideas.”
In fact, Nash’s last project is a new exercise group. “The group is called Strong Bones, and we offer it in four different exercise sites across the country. The program helps keep seniors active and healthy,” explains Nash.
What happens if a volunteer feels overwhelmed or unhappy with their assignment?
“There is always a new opportunity,” explains Nash. “No one ever has to just ‘stick it out’ if they’re unhappy.”
Other opportunities in the RSVP program include being a pen pal to a local school. “We have a great teacher that works with us,” explains Nash. “The seniors love this program because they can write a letter once a month no matter where they are. Many in our program are “snowbirds” so even if they go away for the winter, they can still write one letter a month to their pen pal. Some of our volunteers even send links or photos of where they have traveled to and teachers use this information in helping to teach geography.”
At the end of the school year the RSVP pen pals all have a chance to meet at a social gathering at the school. Both Nash and Carr attend with the senior volunteers. “It’s a great time for the kids and for our volunteers,” stated Nash.
Although the senior volunteers don’t get paid, RSVP hosts a type of “thank-you” dinner with a theme for all volunteers that participated in the various programs.
“It’s a big social event,” explains Nash. “Our theme last year was ‘pajama party’ and everyone came wearing their pajamas. We give out awards and it’s always well attended,” said Nash.
And in keeping with their continual dedication to seniors in need, Nash and Carr explained how the event was also used to help collect new pajamas for a local nursing home.
“We collected almost $300 in donations as well as over 200 pairs of new pajamas,” stated Carr. “Our programs don’t just get our volunteers out of the house and give them a place to go, it offers them a chance to help other seniors.”
Catholic Charities of Onondaga County’s Elderly Services center at the Salina Civic Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers a variety of social activities for those 55 and over. For more information contact (315) 424-1810.