November may have been Senior Companion Month, but in Las Vegas, every month sees people acting as companions for the homebound.
That's the intent of Senior Companions, a program administered locally through Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. It provides support to seniors who require additional assistance so they can continue living independently in their own homes. Many are frail and in diminishing health or have physical disabilities.
Edith Carter is a homebound senior in her 80s who is partially blind. She cannot drive and, before being hooked up with a volunteer, had to take the paratransit bus for tasks such as buying groceries.
"I had to go once a week," she said. "They have a limit on how many groceries you can take on the bus. It was rough."
Now that she has partnered with a volunteer from Senior Companions, she doesn't have to depend on paratransit for transportation.
Gabriel Rivas has been a volunteer in the program for the past four years. A retiree, he said he wanted something that would keep him active and also help others.
An ad in an elevator led him to contact Catholic Charities and undergo training. He told of one of his early clients who looked sickly. Rivas took him to a doctor's appointment.
"The doctor came out and said, 'Are you with this guy? You need to take him to the emergency room right away,' " he recalled.
Rivas did as instructed, and the client was admitted to the hospital. Two weeks later, the client was discharged with a pacemaker.
"He was a new man," Rivas said. "Without Senior Companions, he wouldn't be here anymore."
Carol Hinkell is the Senior Companion program supervisor . She said clients and volunteers are matched by their geographical closeness, "within a 10-mile range of one another." Volunteers do not have to have a background in working with seniors. They do, however, need to be compassionate, have lots of patience and be good listeners.
"Our clients like to talk," she said. "Sometimes, the volunteer is the only person they'll see all week."
A typical visit with a senior might include taking the client to the post office or the pharmacy.
"Other times, they might go to bingo or the movies," Hinkell said. "A lot of them go out together for breakfast or lunch ... it's always done on a Dutch treat basis -- the client pays for his or her own meal, the volunteers pays for his own."
Some volunteers also help around the house with light housekeeping or prepare a light meal. It all depends on what they feel comfortable doing, Hinkell said.
Volunteer senior companions must be at least 60 years old, have their own vehicle and be able to devote 20 hours per week to the program. Each is assigned five clients with whom he visits each week. The companion spends roughly four hours with each senior, each visit.
All Senior Companions clients come to Catholic Charities by referral from an agency such as Nevada's Aging and Disability Services Division or Clark County .
Referrals come in daily. Currently the program has roughly 300 homebound seniors as clients and about 85 companion volunteers. More clients could be served if funding was available.
"One thing about (charity) work," said Hinkell, "you're always looking for additional avenues of funding."
The companions are paid a monthly stipend depending on their mileage. Otherwise, they are strictly volunteers.
Rivas said that was OK and that his reward comes from something other than money.
"I see the joy I put in their faces," he said.
For more information, call 382-0721.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2949.