Lutheran Social Services has programs to help age gracefully

Jill Schramm/MDN Verdean Hofer, a volunteer with Senior Companions, and Jim Blotter, with Volunteer Companions, took in the Minot Senior Coalition’s Senior Salute Tuesday, stopping by the booth where Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota had information available on its Aging Life Care and senior volunteer programs.

Navigating life in one’s later years can be challenging. Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is prepared to help.

LSSND will be sharing information about its aging services and volunteer opportunities at an open house in Minot in observance of May as Older Americans Month. The event will be held May 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. in LSSND headquarters located in the multi-office building just east of the Kmart building at 1905 2nd St. SE.

There will be refreshments and a video reviewing LSSND’s 100-year history, which is being celebrated this year.

The open house will give area residents interested in volunteering a chance to learn about the opportunities to work with the homebound or with organizations that serve the elderly. For seniors and their families, the open house will provide information about the types of services aavailable to them.

“We have a suite of services, basically,” said Becky Telin, team lead for LSSND’s Senior Companions program. “We have care coordination, home and community services, and then we have volunteer support.”

Senior Companions, Volunteer Companions and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) make up the volunteer support services.

Senior Companions and Volunteer Companions provide older adults with one-on-one companionship, social recreation and help with light tasks in their homes at no cost. The programs serve homebound or disabled individuals aged 60 or older who are living independently in the community.

“It’s companionship,” Telin said. “Loneliness is probably one of the biggest issues as you age.”

Senior Companions seeks volunteers aged 55 or older who are committed to at least five hours a week and meet 200% of federal poverty guidelines. Volunteer Companions must be 18 years or older.

There is more flexibility with the Volunteer Companions program, which has no income or time commitment requirements, but Senior Companions are eligible for a tax-free hourly stipend, paid time off, holiday pay and paid training. Both volunteer programs offer travel reimbursement and supplemental insurance while on assignment. All volunteers must pass background and reference checks and all receive training.

Jim Blotter of Turtle Lake is a Volunteer Companion who typically spends two days a week providing winter transportation for clients.

“I love it,” he said. “You feel like you are doing something that’s useful.”

RSVP is a federal program sponsored by LSSND. It recruits volunteers aged 55 and older to help with short- or long-term service projects that promote senior independence and health. It might involve working with a food pantry, senior center, public agency or other partner organization, depending on the volunteer’s interests and skills.

RSVP targets the following high-priority areas identified by LSSND.

– Senior Independence: home-delivered meals, transportation assistance and companionship (i.e., reading to seniors, playing games, arts and crafts, writing letters, light housekeeping).

– Food Security: Growing Together communal gardens, Great Plains Food Bank (coordinating food drives, deliveries), and food pantry assistance.

– Access to Care/Wellness: helping purchase equipment and leading or assisting leaders with the Bone Builders exercise program.

RSVP volunteers receive supplemental insurance while on assignment. Federal dollars require a 30% local match, but for every $3 received, the program provides $7 in services, according to LSSND.

In addition to volunteer programs, LSSND coordinates other staffed programs designed to help seniors live independently in their communities.

A program called Aging Life Care was introduced in North Dakota four years ago and has existed in Minot for two years.

“Probably the best way to describe the services under Aging Life Care is to imagine as it as kind of a rented daughter program,” said Cheryl Coyle, Aging Life Care specialist. A common role is to serve as a second set of ears and an advocate for a client at a medical appointment. Coyle visits clients to make sure they are getting the services they need, staying on top of potential concerns when there’s no immediate family member nearby to keep an eye on mom or dad.

“It really helps to connect people to the services that are in the community and fill in those gaps where there aren’t,” Coyle said. “Without having any support from the community, they would be in nursing facilities. There’s a few people that probably wouldn’t even be here today.”

The Aging Life Care program is open to Ward County residents ages 65 and older or people with chronic medical or mental health needs. It is a flexible, hands-on approach to helping older adults and their families navigate later life care, and services can be short-term or ongoing. It includes patient advocacy and crisis management. Individualized care plans are prepared after comprehensive assessments and consults with clients, and service costs are based on a sliding fee scale.

The local program currently has 17 clients, living in their homes or in care centers. Coyle said there are additional people she has assisted through consults, which often can be one-time sessions to help connect people with needed services.

LSSND’s home and community-based care includes a statewide program to help Medicaid-eligible adults transition from institutionalized care back into the community. It is free to clients and can provide assistance with one-time transition costs.

One of the biggest advantages to the programs for seniors is peace of mind for families, Telin said. Sometimes, family members living elsewhere just need someone to do a welfare check on a regular basis, she said.

One family member of an Aging Life Care client stated: “The program is especially invaluable for parents who have family located out of state. Without close proximity to my mother, it is our lifeline to watching out for the best interests of my mother. The Aging Life Care program is truly a life saver. It has demonstrated thousands of dollars in savings to state and federal agencies. Without this program, we would be at a loss as to services for my aging parent.”

Meeting all the needs of older Americans is the challenge for LSSND in a rural state, even with volunteer help.

“It’s hard because we don’t have as many volunteers as we’d like,” Telin said. “In the western part of the state, there’s about 40 volunteers.”

LSSND attempts to stretch its resources to find ways to serve clients regardless of where they live.

“We are looking to expand to be able to do more, using technology to reach some of the more remote areas,” Coyle said.

People can find out more about any of LSSND’s programs by dropping by the open house on May 22 or by calling 838-7800.