“They truly give more to me than I give to them,” said Vicky Wilken, about volunteering with older adults in the new Senior Kinship Program at Anoka County Community Action Program (ACCAP).
In the fall of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACCAP launched its Senior Kinship Program to help ward off the loneliness impacting older adults in its communities.
The Senior Kinship Program connects volunteers to older adults living in Anoka County. Volunteers may provide assistance and friendship, companionship and support, transportation to appointments and errands, and participate in activities and outings.
“It was a challenge to get started during the pandemic,” acknowledged Patrick McFarland, executive director of ACCAP. “Volunteers, clients and program staff were hesitant to start in-person contact, so the program began with reassurance calls and care packages.”
Thirteen volunteers started with the program in the fall of 2020, and several new volunteers have joined during the summer of 2021.
“Volunteers initially rallied together to make phone calls, assemble care packages and delivere care packages,” explained Sarah Anderson, ACCAP’s Senior Kinship Program Coordinator.
In June 2021, the program started its first in-person one-on-one companionship and transportation services.
“After my mother died, my father was left alone for the first time in his life but with four of the five sisters living in the area, we were able to take turns so he never went a day without a family member visiting him,” explained Wilken, about her decision to volunteer with the program. “After he passed away in August 2020, I began to think of all of the seniors that don't have family near and the daily struggles they face. I wanted to help the seniors… so I connected with [the Kinship Program].”
“Older adults involved with the program have reported less loneliness and less feelings of isolation since the program started,” Anderson continued.
Clients have enjoyed connecting via phone calls, receiving care packages, and in-person contact in their homes and in the community. Transportation has included trips to grocery stores, doctor’s appointments, pharmacies and dollar stores.
“The experience has been wonderful,” Wilken said of volunteering. “I first started calling my ‘ladies’ to develop a personal connection. When we were able to meet in person, the real experience of volunteering began to take place. I love to see the joy on the faces of my ladies after an outing. They want to know about me and my grandchildren and they continue to share more about their life experiences.
“I recently had the one-year anniversary of my dad's death,” Wilken continued, “I was able to talk with one of my ladies about the upcoming date. I love the words of wisdom she shared as she had already experienced the loss of her parents as well as losing a son many years ago. She offered to pray for me which was very meaningful. She has been a true blessing.”
Jessica Little, another volunteer in the program, who also volunteered with seniors in her youth, agreed “my life has brightened through this connection, knowing it is not only what I am giving because when you serve it is always reciprocal. [The senior I was connected with] continues to inspire me, that even with her challenges with health, that we can always remain motivated by viewing the importance of daily meditation… and continuing to help others in her community.”
Little added that she has “been impressed with the training, follow through of services and the compassion ACCAP has in providing quality care to all senior citizens.”
ACCAP is excited to continue to grow the program and move more seniors from the waiting list to be matched with a volunteer. To learn more about the program visit: https://www.accap.org/senior-services/kinship/