Columns Opinion Your Views — 21 March 2013
Feeling lonely? Why not make a new friend

Alexandria is a wonderful place to be a senior.

The city has a wealth of activities and services that keep older residents active and involved in the community. As health and mobility become more of an issue, Meals on Wheels, transportation and in-home care programs help ensure that the more vulnerable individuals can remain safely in their homes. The new friendly visitor program addresses another critical need — companionship.

Many longtime residents of Alexandria find they can no longer count on seeing friends and family on a regular basis. The goal of the friendly visitor program is to relieve the feelings of loneliness and isolation experienced by seniors who may lack local support. Senior Services of Alexandria matches volunteers with socially isolated seniors for weekly visits.

Friendly visitors and their senior match meet weekly to talk, play games, read, reminisce and form lasting relationships. One of the organization’s first friendly visitors, Christine Friedberg, said, “Monday afternoons are the highlight of my week.”

“I am thrilled to be part of the program, and over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know my senior — a wonderful woman who has lived in the community for a number of years,” Friedberg said. “We spend hours talking, and I’m learning about her past and her family. There is no doubt that we are a good match; she has helped me to slow down and appreciate the little things in life and to appreciate each day we have. It’s a gift.”

The program was officially launched at a ceremony in Mayor Bill Euille’s office in the fall, honoring the organizations that provided financial support to get things started: Adult Companion Care, Downtown Baptist Church and Old Presbyterian Meeting House. Senior Services of Alexandria crafted the program with the support of a volunteer task force and with invaluable insight and guidance from Glenn White, who is a senior support specialist at the Annie B. Rose House.

Sarah Drexler, coordinator for the friendly visitor program, conducts one-hour training sessions for each volunteer and meets with every senior referred for a friendly visitor to determine if they will benefit from it. Potential volunteers receive training and must pass a background check. Each agrees to visit their senior weekly and is asked to make an initial six-month commitment to the program.

The first friendly visitor matches were made in November, and feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Senior Services of Alexandria set a goal of 35 matches by July 1 and has already paired 25 seniors with a volunteer.

The organization is looking for more volunteers to be matched with seniors. If you would like to make a difference in a senior’s life, just call us at 703-836-4414×13 or email volunteer@seniorservicesalex.org. Seniors interested in the program may be referred by their senior housing facility, city government or local congregation. They also can contact Senior Services of Alexandria directly.

The author is director of 
the resource center at Senior Services of Alexandria.

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