Guest commentary: Being a friendly neighbor to elderly people in your community is vital
By Tammy Glenn
More than 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day. America has more people over the age of 85 than under the age of five. This socioeconomic shift impacts employees, families and neighborhoods.
Investing in volunteer caregiving could not be more critical than it is right now.
Forty years ago, the writing was on the wall, and in 1984, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation selected Ventura County as one of 25 pilot sites to test a new volunteer caregiving model.
A “Silver Tsunami” was imminent and communities would need support systems designed to help people age in place or prepare to institutionalize older people at rates never before seen.
What started as a $1 million commitment soon led to a $50 million investment over 20 years, funding support for more than 2,200 traditional communities across the country.
This neighbor’s helping neighbors model promoted lending a helping hand to preserve a dying culture we once took for granted.
The Foundation cut the proverbial umbilical cord 20 years ago, handing off the endeavor to the National Volunteer Caregiving Network.
Now headquartered in Ventura County, we find ourselves helping prepare volunteer caregiving organizations across the country for the next 40 years of our aging populations.
In Ventura County, it is estimated that there are 30,000 seniors and people with disabilities in need of assistance that volunteers can offer that will help our community’s most vulnerable survive at home.
Similar numbers exist in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo where Community Partners in Caring and Faith in Action Aids Support share the same mission: Aging in Place.
Right now, there is a tremendous need for volunteers to assist these homebound elderly and disabled to meet their most basic needs to avoid them having to move to a care facility.
The national volunteer caregiving movement is a network of nonprofit organizations with a demonstrated model of success that includes volunteers stepping up to deliver groceries and pharmaceuticals, and providing personal transportation to critical medical appointments like dialysis and chemotherapy.
These volunteers are not medical professionals; they are good neighbors who care, and they are making a real difference in the lives of seniors!
The National Volunteer Caregiving Network estimates more than 350,000 volunteers are serving communities in every state in our nation.
By 2040, seniors will make up 22% of our country’s population with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
”Volunteer Caregivers are helping seniors all over the country with a lot of the basics like shopping and companionship, but mostly, volunteers are the antidote to social isolation and loneliness,” stated Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer and honorary director for Ventura County.
“We know from 40 years of success that vetted, friendly visitors can change someone’s life for the better.”
Private support from organizations like The Amgen Foundation, The Gene Haas Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente are local examples of donors who have committed to advancing the mission in our communities —ensuring that services are provided at no cost to the people served.
Promoting the health, well-being, dignity, and independence of seniors and those with disabilities through one-on-one relationships with trusted volunteers is the hallmark of successful volunteer caregiving.
The model is nimble and tailored to meet the needs of each community by designing volunteer opportunities for all ages and interests, from teenage chore teams, dementia-friendly respite, phone friends, adopt-a-grandparent and more.
The commitment of these nonprofits working to help prevent premature placement into board and care facilities is helping make it possible for people to age in place, in the comfort and security of their own homes. This speaks volumes about their commitment and mission and who we are as a nation.
The model is not dependent on tax dollars or membership fees; it survives and thrives thanks to your personal support.
If you can volunteer just a couple of hours a week, together we can make a difference for “the greatest generation,” and “baby boomers,” enabling them to age in place.
Visit nvcnetwork.org to find a volunteer caregiving organization near you, and in Ventura County, please contact us at: vccaregivers.org/.
Tammy Glenn is the executive director of Ventura-based Caregivers and a member of the National Volunteer Caregiving Network.