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On the day of a home visit, mother-daughter duo Maggie and Ellie Keenan have brainstormed topics that Ada Cooper, 83, will find interesting to talk about. The topic for this particular visit was the Korean War.
“Her husband served in the military, so she may have a lot of input on the recent events happening right now,” said Maggie, a kindergarten teacher at Barbara Comstock Morse Elementary.
Maggie and Ellie Keenan are volunteers for one of the newest programs at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS), the Senior program. This program matches volunteer families and socially isolated seniors with the assistance of Eskaton’s Talking Listening Caring Telephone Reassurance Program (TLC). The Senior program’s volunteers, like Maggie and Ellie, commit to visiting a senior at least twice per month and bring groceries provided by SFSBS at least once per month.
According to Senior Program Manager Marie-Louise Nelson, it is projected that more than 300,000 seniors will be living in the Sacramento region by 2020, which makes programs focused on seniors all the more important. Marie-Louise said that for seniors, like Ada, who are living alone or have little family living locally, having someone to visit and check on them is important and essential to the physical and mental health of a senior. “Sometimes we go to a house and there is little food, the senior is isolated, depressed, ill or lacks stimulation. The presence of another human being is paramount to aiding the senior and making them feel heard, seen, and loved,” Marie-Louise said.
The importance of others in the lives of seniors was most poignantly phrased by 101 year-old Senior program participant, Clara Thomas, “People don’t realize that their presence is very powerful.”
“Volunteers who are good matches for a senior are those who display a commitment to engage and connect on a basic, kindly level,” Marie-Louise said. The Keenans are two Senior program volunteers who have displayed exactly that. Since August 2011, the Keenans have stopped by Ada’s home to bring food and companionship. Throughout their time together the conversation can flow from news topics to updates on Ada’s health or recently on how Ellie did on her driver’s test. (She passed).
For all involved, the twice monthly visits have established what Program Manager Marie-Louise calls a mutual admiration society. “They all respect and enjoy each other’s company to a high degree. Maggie and Ellie are a great match for Ada for many reasons but also because they pay attention to Ada’s well-being and communicate to me about it,” Marie-Louise said.
In one particular instance, Maggie reported a concern over Ada’s health to Marie-Louise who was able to get referrals for the necessary services. “Without Maggie’s observations, Ada may not have been given the care that she needed,” Marie-Louise said.
For Maggie and Ellie the visits with Ada have become a learning opportunity as they continue to build a relationship with Ada. “It couldn’t be any better. It’s like I’ve known them forever. I couldn’t ask for better friends,” said Ada. “She is a very strong, independent woman and exudes that sense of empathy,” Maggie said, referring to Ada’s 30 years working with the Salvation Army, “Volunteering with Ada has made me realize how much the person volunteering benefits.” When conversations turns towards hardships, Maggie said, Ada always manages to end on an optimistic note. For Ellie, visits with Ada have given her a new experience. “Ada’s never in a bad mood and is always smiling and very sweet. This experience puts my life in a different perspective making me feel fortunate for my family, because Ada has so little family around."
Maggie, Ellie and Ada plan to continue their visits and all are eager to see their relationship grow.