Seniors Helping Seniors is hiring senior caregivers to aid care receivers. (Photo/SHS)

By Leslie Golden | lgolden@alextimes.com

During his nearly three decades as the director of driver education and training at AAA Club Alliance, Kurt Gray met many seniors during retraining and updates to driving guidelines.

“I oversaw instructor certification workshops, driver safety presentations and driver skills assessments…particularly for older drivers whose families had concerns about their ability to drive safely. I spent a lot of time working with aging drivers and their families to help identify and manage the physical changes that come with aging,” Gray said.

During his time working with seniors, Gray realized there was a greater need for additional services – for companionship, attention and care. After retiring, Gray began his own consulting firm. “I started my own traffic safety consulting business. And there I continued, and I still to this day, continued to work with organizations and with aging drivers on maximizing safety and driving longevity.”

Gray left Alexandria years ago after the birth of his son. He formerly lived on Duke St., but had been working and living in Delaware. He recently returned to the DMV, in part, to help care for his own aging parents.

“My parents are both 84. They were living in a house that was older that wasn’t safe for them. They live with me now. I’m living what I’m doing! I understand what it’s like when you have aging parents. They want to be in a home. They don’t want to be in an assisted living space,” Gray shared.

Gray was looking for a way to marry his wealth of profes- sional expertise with his own personal background to help seniors in Alexandria and the surrounding areas. That is where his new venture, Seniors Helping Seniors, began.

“If you can stay safely in your home, we want to give you the care and support that you need. Thinking about peo- ple like my parents who want to stay in their homes, who may have some mobility is- sues, who are aging…it’s all in the name, right? We always say it’s all in the name: seniors helping seniors,” he laughed.

Gray and his team act a bit like matchmakers. They have interviews via phone, in person and in the homes of potential clients. Then Gray and his team conduct similar interviews, reference checks and background checks on potential caregivers. During the interviewing process, some in the caregiver role are surprised to find they will be compensated for their work.

Gray explained, “We’re looking for younger seniors, retired folks who have time, who want to stay active and who want to give back to help less active older persons. Our ideal caregiver is someone who’s retired or semi-retired. They want something to keep them busy. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve hired people and they say, ‘Wait, you are going to pay me? I thought I was volunteering!’ We’re really looking for people with a volunteer spirit. To give back and help other people, but we don’t expect you to do that for free.”

When asked what types of services clients and caregivers can expect, Gray said, “We’re a senior focused in-home care agency that provides the non-medical services designed to help seniors who have dif- ficulties with daily activities.”

SHS offers everything from trips to the grocery store to some light housekeeping to driving to appointments to just sharing an afternoon together.

Gray offered insight into one of his client’s situations. “I have a client and he’s physically fit. He’s 84. He’s in great shape. He has mild dementia. It’s not significant. But he wants to get out of the house during the week. And his wife wants to do her own thing.”

While his client’s wife attends choir practice or travels to her weekly knitting class, a caregiver from SHS will visit his client and spend the day with him.

“He wants to go to Starbucks. He wants to go to Wegman’s. He likes to go to a pastry shop. He may want to travel to a store to buy some new handkerchiefs,” Gray shared.

This client doesn’t require a great deal of care, but Gray’s company enables him to have the freedom and ability to socialize, shop and dine without the help of his wife. Gray’s team members can also help with reminders for important tasks, like taking prescription medication.

“Though we do not administer medication, we do issue reminders. For example, one client likes to go out and spend the day away from home. He needs a reminder to take his medicine at a certain time of day. Otherwise, he’ll forget. We watch and we make sure that that happens,” Gray said.

Seniors who are interested in receiving help or working to bring help to their fellow seniors, can call, email or visit Gray’s website where they can put in requests for services or employment.

“The good part about SHS is we’re matching that particular client with a caregiver with similar interests. That is key,” Gray said.

During the initial interviewing process, Gray begins to think about potential matches for caregivers and clients.

“When I’m talking with a client and I’m starting to learn more about them, what they like to do, where they like to go, I’m thinking and I’m going through my Rolodex of caregivers in my mind,” Gray shared.

Flexibility is key to Gray’s model. Arrangements can be made regularly or for only a finite amount of time. Depending on the circumstances and needs of his clients, Gray adjusts the level and duration of commitment.

Gray added, “For example, we have a client who’s having knee surgery. She doesn’t need consistent care for months and months. She probably just needs four to six weeks of help. For other clients, we have a built-in schedule. We’re going to see you three or four times a week, at whatever times are determined and arranged and that can go on for as long as they need.”

Gray’s new business will help offer support and care to seniors in the area. By hiring senior caregivers, Gray is enabling individuals to enjoy a flexible schedule, extra income and lend a hand to a fellow senior.

“We monitor progress throughout the day. I call and check on my client and see how the service is going. Then later, I talk to the caregiver. Often, they both give me the same updates and when those updates align, I know we had a good day,” Gray said.

For more information on Seniors Helping Seniors, visit shsmetrospringfield.com.