Conceived by Congress a year after the attacks, 9/11 National Day of Service encourages Americans of all ages and backgrounds to sponsor a charity of their choice and give back to their communities. There are multiple charities and organizations that exclusively wish for youth and able-bodied adults to volunteer, leaving senior citizens without any volunteer opportunities. The Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs of Sparks assists with seniors who want to serve their community and make a positive change in someone’s life.
“There are a lot of organizations out their that just focus on children’s causes, which is great, but there are other programs that don’t get a lot of attention,” said Mary Brock, executive director of Elvirita Lewis Forum, a not-for-profit agency that supports the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs. “There are plenty of senior citizens that want to help and we give them that opportunity.”
Established during the Nixon administration, the federally funded Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs pairs senior citizens with appropriate residents in the community. The program can pair at-risk youths with seniors, who then tutor and mentor. The companion program pairs seniors with their peers who seek basic company or need help running errands.
“We have foster grandparents working with early head start, low performing schools, places like Kids Kottage,” said Brock. “We want these kids to meet academic standards and sometimes, these kids build a better relationship with these seniors than someone closer to their parents’ ages.
“With the Senior Companion program, our volunteers provide social support to those with limited interaction — it’s seniors helping seniors,” said Brock. “We work with the state of Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division to help find those needing assistance and support,”
For seniors looking to participate in either program, each volunteer must commit at least 15 hours a week to their cause. Volunteers are provided a small stipend.
“We focus on bringing in low-income seniors to volunteer,” said Brock. “We provide them with a stipend because often times, they’re only living on Social Security.”
With the attention the 9/11 National Day of Service brings, Brock hopes that more senior citizens will notice and get involved in these two organizations.
“In northern Nevada, we have close to 200 volunteers in both programs,” said Brock. “There are an estimated 5,000 kids a year we foster and we have about 125 elders that we visit in our companion program. The more volunteers we have, the more people we can reach.”
For more information about the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs, visit www.nnelf.com or call (775) 358-2322.