Program links volunteers with agencies in need in Sewickley Valley, region
Finding enough volunteers to help with the programs and services offered to older adults in Allegheny County always is a struggle, said Nancy Jones, a manager for the north boroughs office of North Hills Community Outreach.
That's where the Open Your Heart to a Senior program comes in.
Jones, also a project coordinator for the program run through the outreach's Bellevue office, said Open Your Heart has recruited several hundred volunteers for such programs since it debuted in 2009, including Faith in Action based at Sewickley Valley YMCA.
She said volunteers and seniors who need help are found by placing advertisements in publications, sending information to churches, mailing out newsletters, handing out information at senior health fairs and connecting with other agencies that often make referrals.
Initiated and funded by the United Way of Allegheny County, the program is run in cooperation with North Hills Community Outreach and Family Services of Western Pennsylvania. The outreach also runs a Faith in Action program, and Family Services has a similar Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers program.
There is a need for volunteer help in every community in Allegheny County, said the program's website, www.openyourhearttoasenior.org.
Last year, 378 volunteers served more than 1,350 people who receive care throughout Allegheny County. Volunteers contributed about 12,500 hours on behalf of the region's vulnerable seniors throughout 2011.
“I think Open Your Heart to a Senior is a wonderful campaign to recruit volunteer interest,” said Heather Ochman, Y Faith in Action director.
“Our collaboration with the group is very valuable. I use it mostly as a tool to help folks make a connection between what Faith in Action is as a ‘volunteer opportunity,' and what it does to make an impact on our community. Occasionally, we benefit from a referral for a volunteer in our area who has contacted the Open Your Heart to a Senior hotline.”
Ochman said the local Faith in Action has about 100 volunteers and 500 people who receive care.
Volunteers, who first meet with Ochman for a training session, provide rides to doctors' appointments and the grocery store; stop by for a friendly visit; or can do light chores, rake leaves or shovel snow.
Ochman said the program helps seniors maintain their independence and quality of life while building caring relationships.
She said even two hours one day a month can make a difference.
Tracy Hurley, 70, of Oakdale, has been a Faith in Action volunteer for a year and a half and said she loves the flexibility.
Emails are sent out to volunteers telling when seniors need rides or help, and volunteers then are able to choose a time that suits their schedules.
Hurley, who learned about the program at the Y, where she is a member, volunteers about once a week.
Volunteering has given her a way to get to know people in the community where her daughter, Kathy Holland, and her grandchildren live. She and her family are new to the area.
Holland's neighbor, Nancy Hutchinson, told Holland about the program. Holland then got involved for awhile, and recruited her mother.
Hurley said she loves the program, because when she gives rides to seniors, many times they tell her about themselves.
“Afterward, I ponder their lives, and I admire everyone I meet. How they overcome their limitations and all they have to go through (and it's different for everyone) is amazing. They are a total inspiration to me,” she said.
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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