Funding for Catholic Family Services’ Seniors Outreach Program comes from money collected during ShareLife’s annual campaign, which this year has a goal of $14.925 million this year. Photo/Pixabay

ShareLife funds help support outreach to elderly

By 
  • May 4, 2017

For many seniors, day-to-day living is a lonely and often isolating experience.

“It is quite jarringly high, the number of seniors living alone,” said Michelle Bergin, executive director of Catholic Family Services Simcoe County. “(There’s) a large volume of seniors living alone within the regions of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Knowing that those communities have a combination of rural-urban mix setting, you can just imagine that seniors can be even more isolated when they are in a rural setting verse an urban setting just because they are so cut off.”

Recent research conducted by a consultant on behalf of Catholic Charities confirmed that reality and resulted in the Catholic Family Services’ Seniors Outreach Program, a pilot project to pair seniors with visiting volunteers.

Funding for the project’s first 19 months, totalling $180,000, was provided by Catholic Charities from money collected during ShareLife’s annual campaign, which this year has a goal of $14.925 million. The next ShareLife Sunday is May 7.

Bergin can relate to the problems of isolated seniors on a personal level, with her own parents living half a country away in British Columbia.

“This is challenging,” she said. “I don’t live close to them and I’m trying to provide support for them. This is where this program looks to build support for those kind of seniors.”

As a parish-based initiative the program relies primarily on volunteers who are screened using a police background check, trained and then matched with a senior who would like a regular visitor.

“This is really about providing that companionship, that friendly visitor who can be there just for them,” said Bergin, whose branch of Catholic Family Services is leading the initiative. “It is not about doing the dishes, it is not about vacuuming their carpet, it is really about sitting down, listening to stories (and) talking about whatever they want to discuss.”

The frequency and length of the visits vary depending on the needs of the senior and availability of the volunteer. Overseeing the volunteers is a co-ordinator who is supported by and responsible to Catholic Family Services.

Both Catholic Family Services Simcoe County and Catholic Family Services Peel Dufferin are involved with the project. They offer services through three parishes: Guardian Angels Church in Orillia, St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Holy Martyrs of Japan Parish in Bradford, Holy Family Church in Bolton, St. Patrick Parish in Brampton and St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Mississauga.

“I hope (the program) continues beyond the pilot,” said Bergin. “(We) just need to have time and patience to promote things in different ways and look at different ways that you can promote it so that people can build a bigger awareness of it.”

Amanda Fellows, program manager in Simcoe County, said it is gratifying to see the volunteers interacting with seniors.

“We just started all of the visiting in our parishes,” she said. “It has been really heartwarming to see. It is creating people that care for people.”

More than 200 people “have already been touched in some way, shape or form by this initiative either as a volunteer, as a co-ordinator or as a participant,” she added.

When Samantha Fernandes first heard about the program after taking a job with Catholic Family Services Peel Dufferin, she was struck by the simplicity of the approach to providing support.

“It is really, really a great idea,” said Fernandes, manager of community development. “We know that there are a lot of seniors out there who need the support, but I didn’t know of a lot of places out there which were doing this kind of support.”

What makes the program so needed is the sense of value it gives back to the lonely, she said.

“Our friendly visitors are really there to be that social support, to ... just talk to seniors to make them feel valued,” she said.

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