“Staying Home” – It’s Better To Give Than To Relieve

Photo courtesy of BigStock/Angelov
Photo courtesy of BigStock/Angelov

The basement doorway scarred with annual notes of childhood growth.  The basketball hoop hovering over the driveway like a rusted halo.  The current home office haunted by chipped, four-fingered wall images that bespeak of a repurposed playroom.  Memories are everywhere, peppered with the dust of time.  These are the hallmarks of a house which has been a home for decades, a human hatching ground that has, in more recent years, become an empty nest.  The house shows signs of aging, as do the grey birds left behind: easy-to-do things have become hard to do and hard-to-do things have become impossible. 

When the twin challenges of an aging house and an aging owner pair up in the Twin Cities, well, that’s when Senior Community Services pairs people with seniors who want to stay in their own homes but can no longer manage a house’s most rigorous necessities.  Of course, these Certain People are of a special kind—the benevolent, unpaid kind.

“I believe that much of what gets done around the world is done by volunteers,” avows Karen Johnson, who ought to know, as she is the Minnetonka-based Senior Community Services’ Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator.  “Volunteers are a gift—a gift to the senior, a gift to Senior Community Services and to the greater community.  Volunteering fosters connections and helps meet a need in the community.”

Participants in SCS’s programs–someone over sixty years old, often on a fixed income–might receive help with painting projects, home safety checks, garden care, and light housekeeping…and this assistance has never been needed more urgently, according to Johnson:  “Volunteers are especially important today because services dedicated to the aging population are underfunded and the need will continue to increase as the US population continues to age.”

Outdoor chores are volunteers’ response to the 365 annual seasons Minnesotans call “days,” the chores in question most often being lawn mowing and snow removal.  As Senior Community Services’ website elaborates, “You can also help with raking, yard clean-up, gardening, window washing, and exterior painting on an ‘as needed’ basis.”  Adds Karen Johnson, “This winter, we’ve had individuals and groups of two who have been doing snow removal for seniors near their homes.”  And naturally, Senior Community Services can’t do its thing without administrative support.  The website elaborates, “These volunteers come into our Minnetonka office to help with mailings, data entry, and more.”  

Sometimes required tasks are big enough to command the talents of a whole gaggle of do-gooders.  Notes Johnson, “We have corporate teams, boy and girl scout teams, school sports teams, faith groups, civic groups, city council members, neighborhood groups, police department teams, and family teams that sign up to help a senior remain in their home.”

In addition to matching problems with solutions, SCS occasionally matches solutions with problems.  “Volunteer teams can select the day and time they want to volunteer,” Karen Johnson says.  “They can also indicate the geographic area where they would like to help.”

Help around the house isn’t all benefiting homeowners receive.  “We share a seasonal newsletter with all our participants,” Johnson reveals.  “This updates them on new employees and new programs.  We are quick to share comments and thoughts from the volunteers with the seniors they have helped.  Our volunteers are featured in our newsletters.”

SCS’s mission is “to innovate and deliver services that meet the changing needs of older adults and their caregivers.” “One of our newest programs is our technology program,” says Johnson.  “We have digital handypersons who can help with setting up a device, applications, and troubleshooting.”  

This isn’t a mere matter of figuring out how best to wield a virtual pickax while engaging the grandkids’ favorite video game—most of the basics of home retention have in the last decade been woven in ones and zeroes.  “We are eager to help people get connected and then support them,” Johnson proclaims.  “We are searching for volunteer and/or paid digital handypersons throughout Hennepin County.”

Senior Community Services’ volunteers are defined by giving…but that doesn’t prohibit some getting, as well.  “Our volunteers receive a bi-monthly email newsletter with updates and we send them the comments and thoughts that we receive from the seniors,” Johnson catalogs.  “Volunteers are invited, at no cost, to our Reimagine Aging Conference each year.  Annually, we sponsor a Volunteer Appreciation Gathering.” 

The relationships between participants and volunteers is an embodiment of Senior Community Services’ values, as stated on its website:  “We believe that recognizing and celebrating the diversity of the people we serve and those who help us serve them is essential to the execution of our mission.”  But those values don’t merely exist in cyberspace.  “We have been active within the LGBTQ community,” Karen Johnson records.  “In 2015, we received the John Yoakam Award for Service to LGBT Elders.  SCS has presented at the Friends and Company luncheons. Our CEO, Deb Taylor, is recognized for advocating that all social services become diverse and inclusive.”

Senior Community Services’ pairing-up of participants and volunteers continues…and, if you’re up for it, perhaps you can keep an owner paired with her house, making new memories in a nest that’s not so empty, after all…or, as Karen Johnson puts it,  “We are encouraged by the return to volunteering that we are seeing and the wonderful partnership between our volunteers and our seniors.”

To volunteer or to participate, please contact: 

Senior Community Services
Minnetonka Main Office
10201 Wayzata Blvd., Ste. 335
Minnetonka, MN 55305
(952) 541-1019
[email protected]

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