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Organizations working together on Senior Companion Project

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Planning is underway to eventually have a fully realized seniors' volunteer program in Fort Frances.

Members of several different service organizations met in the Shaw room at the Fort Frances Library and Technology Centre last month to discuss the Senior Companion Project, an initiative that aims to eventually have a seniors-helping-seniors volunteer program operating in town.

Sarah-lynn Klassen, the geriatric mental health worker with CMHA, is serving as the consultant for the project as it moves forward on collecting input to help shape the program.

She explained that the goal of the meeting on Tuesday was to begin the collaborative process.

“Today we invited stakeholders from the community who are involved with seniors to share information about our Seniors Companion Project, and to enlist their help in developing the design and the concept moving forward,” Klassen said.

“The Seniors Companion Project is happening over the next five months to educate the community on volunteerism, specifically with seniors, and the ultimate goal is to start up a program in the future that will be a seniors-helping-seniors model volunteer program.”

With a program like the one Klassen mentioned in place, senior volunteers who may be more mobile than others, either physically or by being able to drive, would sign up to volunteer to meet with seniors who are socially or physically isolated.

The program could help to connect seniors with specific hobbies or interests with those who can actively involve those seniors in the activity. One example given at the meeting was in relation to fishing: through the program, a senior who may love to fish but can no longer go out alone might be paired up with someone who is willing to take that senior out fishing, thus providing an important social connection, as well as keeping them active.

While the end product of these meetings, as well as all of the forms it could take and services it could provide is still a ways out, the collaborative effort being undertaken is taking aim at the practical aspects of what such a volunteer program might look and sound like, from the terminology used to describe the people taking part in the program on either side to what age will qualify someone to make use of the program, and whether the Ojibwe language should be incorporated into promotional and information materials.

One thing made clear at the meeting is that the future program wouldn't take the place or conflict with any existing program or services being offered in the community.

Klassen noted that the collaborative effort is important because each organization brings a different perspective to the table.

“This is really important to get input from other organizations that have been serving seniors and recognizing where some of the gaps are in service,” she said.

“So it's better to bring everyone together and collectively come up with an appropriate customized program that fits the needs of our seniors in Fort Frances.”

Moving forward, the stakeholders will have two more meetings, one in January and another in February, and will also hold six free education sessions in order to provide information to those who might wish to be a volunteer in the final program.

According to a strategic plan released by the Fort Frances Age-Friendly Committee for 2017-2020, by the end of the next two decades over 40 percent of the population of Fort Frances will be made up of older adults, and Klassen said this program is just one of the ways that the community can prepare and get programming in place to help out as that population age, with the collaboration helping to make things the program the best it could be.

“The best outcome would be if we have a good amount of participation in our education sessions,” Klassen said.

“We want to build capacity of volunteers who are interested in supporting seniors through companionship. The best outcome would also be that we have a brand and a visible identity in the community moving forward so that once we implement the program, people know what we're talking about, are excited about it and can more immediately want to participate in it.”

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