Sometimes we just need someone to talk to.
Humans are social animals, after all, and that aspect of life doesn’t just suddenly change in your twilight years, according to Jackie Whan, who coordinates the Senior Peer Support program in town.
The changes that do happen in our seniors’ lives, however, make it more likely that particular aspect of life needs help being filled.
So, since 2007, under the umbrella of the Women’s Resource Centre, the Senior Peer Support program has been filling that need as best they can.
Many of our seniors, Whan says, are experiencing various forms of social isolation, so she and her volunteers do what they can to remedy that.
“Maybe they just lost their driver’s license, or they are having mobility issues so they’re not able to get out into the community as much anymore,” she says. “Mainly we are there to support people who are going through some kind of transition in their lives, much of which deals with depression and/or social isolation. Those are probably the two most common things.”
Simply put, they just want to be a service that improves people’s quality of life however they can.
“It might be just emotional support, or it might be a social support where they physically take them out somewhere. I think that’s the majority of what we do – just help people get out into the community more than they otherwise would – but many people just need someone to come in and listen to them,” Whan says. “They just want to feel like they’re being heard – like their story is worth telling.”
Their offerings are free, volunteer-driven and for anyone – men and women – 55 years of age or older.
And as is the case with many volunteer initiatives and programs these days, they always seem to need more volunteers. In Whan’s case in particular, they need men.
“We have one male volunteer,” she says. “We desperately need more men. I had three referrals in a row that were men, and while most men are used to much of their nursing and home support being female, these men specifically wanted to talk about fishing, logging and other facets of their lives that brought them so much joy and satisfaction, and that they wish they could still do, probably … and it’s really hard to get volunteers who will be able to talk about that kind of stuff.”
She thinks part of the reason they have problems getting male volunteers is simply the fact that they are based at the Women’s Resource Centre.
“I’m sure that’s part of it,” she admits, “but I do try to stress for people that it is for both men and women. It’s initiated and administered by the Campbell River Women’s Resource Centre, but we are a separate program.”
It’s not a huge time commitment for volunteers to get involved, either.
After a few sessions of provided training to get started, Whan says, volunteers could be asked for as little of their time as an hour or two every other week.
“Our volunteers usually go into our clients’ home once a week – but that’s not written in stone,” she says. It’s negotiable between the client and the volunteer.”
And there are benefits for volunteers over and above the satisfaction of helping their peers lead better lives, as well, such as gaining or improving some of their own skills.
Whan says she meets with her volunteers twice a month at the Community Centre. One of those meetings is a sort of “de-brief” where they confidentially discuss the work they do, while the other is usually a guest speaker or educational meeting of some kind.
“It could be another service in town, maybe or something about an illness or something else the volunteers might to like or need to know more about,” Whan says. “Part of that is to keep our volunteers up-to-date on the knowledge about what’s available out there in terms of services, because part of our role is to help people access the resources that are available out in the community for seniors, as well.
For more information on the program or to get involved as either a volunteer or client, contact Whan by email at email@example.com or by phone at 250-204-7737.