Carol O’Gara, left, sits with volunteer Madeline Kauffman during one of their weekly visits. Volunteers provide a number of services of seniors, including providing them company. (Courtesy photo / Catholic Community Services)

Carol O’Gara, left, sits with volunteer Madeline Kauffman during one of their weekly visits. Volunteers provide a number of services of seniors, including providing them company. (Courtesy photo / Catholic Community Services)

Brother, can you spare some time?

Coronavirus made needs grow, so group is calling for more volunteers

Juneau’s Catholic Community Service is putting a call out for volunteers, asking for anyone and everyone able to lend a hand to do so. The coronavirus pandemic has increased the needs of older adults and others served by CCS, and the group needs more people to serve those needs.

So they launched a program they’re calling Friends of Seniors to get as many people signed up as possible.

The plan to create a volunteer program by recruiting members of the public to do everyday tasks — menial for most people but enormously helpful to older adults — preceded the coronavirus, said Janna Auger of CCS, but the pandemic made the need more urgent.

“As we went through lockdown and our needs in the community changed we did a soft launch earlier than we intended,” Auger told the Empire in an interview.

Auger is volunteer coordinator for the Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, run by CCS, and was already serving a number of older adults and their families. But with the pandemic adding new layers of complexities, CCS realized it was going to need more people.

“We launched sooner than expected and in a very small way,” Auger said. “We tried to address some of the gaps in the community we’ve seen for some time.”

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By gaps, Auger means the needs of older adults still not met, even with the myriad services available in Juneau. Transportation and medical services are available, she said, but things like taking out the trash, mowing the lawn or, in the case of pandemic-related need, going to the store for groceries.

Many of the program’s patients are at high risk for the coronavirus, Auger said, and a simple trip to the grocery store can be a frightening prospect. The goal of the Friends of Seniors program is to recruit a large number of volunteers that can spend even a short amount of time doing small things that older adults have a hard time doing.

But it’s that huge difference made but such a small act that makes the volunteering so rewarding, said Angela Smith, who’s been volunteering with CCS since before the pandemic.

“There are even the smallest tasks that can be done that are so big, just a run to the store,” Smith said “There are a number of tasks that don’t have any (close) contact that are very helpful. You don’t have to go into people’s homes. It’s the most incredible, easy support.”

The program is open to older adults over 60, some contacted CCS themselves and others were referred by a medical provider, Auger said, but often calls come in from family members who are out of town and want someone to check up on a loved one.

CCS already has 13 service areas it covers, including food delivery and tech support, but wants anyone with any kind of skill they can contribute to volunteer.

“Anyone who wants to volunteer with no contact, to take somebody’s trash to the curb, really small commitments,” Auger said. “But we’re also looking for people with skills that could build something, who are willing to shovel snow or schlep wood pellets, teach how to use Zoom or Skype or even to do some telehealth.”

But most of all, Auger said they were looking for volunteers who were willing to spend time with older adults and provide companionship.

“What we’re hoping to accomplish is we want to ease the emotional and physical risk of isolation and remove the stigma of asking for help,” she said. We want to build a network of how we support each other. We’re looking for people who want to do something at this time when we’re all so powerless.”

Friends of Seniors has volunteer opportunities for people who have medical credentials and can provide a higher level of care to older adults who need it, but it is open to all 18 years and older. CCS does background checks on new volunteers, according to its website.

The outsized impact that small acts can make in older adults’ lives makes those personal connections come easily, Smith said.

“The connections are very meaningful,” she said.

And not just for the person being helped, Smith said.

“You’re serving them but it’s almost more so like you’re serving the family,” she said. “There’s so many things we can do that are just really easy for us.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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