Elders support Elders through tribe’s Senior Companion Program
Laura Hobson and Nancy Nelson walked into the store, one after the other, and began peering at the collection of antiques.
“Oh, this is pretty,” said Hobson, pointing to a lamp.
“Look at this,” said Nelson, running her hand along the edge of a handheld mirror.
The women stayed close, a few strides apart, slowly moving past rows of lamps, figurines and dishes.
“I remember these. Wow, the tea used to taste so good,” said Nelson, holding up a kettle. “It’s good to be nostalgic every now and then.”
Recently, Hobson and Nelson have been creating new memories as participants in the tribe’s Senior Companion Program. The program matches trained volunteers over the age of 55 with fellow Elders who have physical, emotional or mental hindrances. Volunteers offer support to Elder recipients in a range of areas, forming a companionship. The tribe launched the program about a year ago through its Tyotkas Elder Program.
Hobson and Nelson were paired together a few months ago.
Hobson, a volunteer – or “companion” – moved with her husband from Anchorage to Soldotna two years ago and is retired after a 20-year career in banking. She had been looking for ways to help people in her free time.
“I thought right away that it would be interesting. I thought I would learn something from it,” Hobson said. “I like working with people. I like to be helpful. I’ve always been that way.”
Nelson, a recipient, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and rents a single room in a Soldotna boarding house. She had been seeking a healthy outlet from that living arrangement.
“I felt stuck in a rut and isolated, even when I was around people,” Nelson said.
Hobson and Nelson have formed a strong bond since being paired through the program. They meet once a week, usually on Tuesdays, and enjoy a range of activities.
They spent time together in Seward as part of a group field trip organized by Tyotkas, enjoy shopping – especially for antiques, as they did on this day – and frequently go out to lunch.
Nelson said she often feels claustrophobic at the boarding house, but meeting Hobson has helped put her at ease.
“It’s helping me emotionally because it takes me out of the rut,” Nelson said. “I feel happier, I feel like I can breathe again.”
Heather Daniels, the tribe’s Senior Companion Program coordinator, said the program is still in the planning and development phase as it recruits volunteers. Currently, the program has two volunteers and about six recipients. Daniels hopes both those numbers soon grow.
Volunteers, who receive a stipend, must serve at least 15 hours per week. In addition to being at least 55 years old, volunteers also must meet income and other eligibility requirements. They go through a thorough training program – Hobson said it took a couple months to complete – before they are paired with recipients.
Volunteers may assist with daily tasks, but Daniels said they are not case managers. Instead, the focus is on forming long-lasting, meaningful relationships.
“The Senior Companion Program is really built around that social aspect,” Daniels said. “I really encourage that person-to-person link.”
Nelson said she was skeptical about the program before she joined because she didn’t know what to expect. Now, though, the highlight of her week is spending time with Hobson.
“She helps me in a lot of ways that I did not expect,” Nelson said. “I look forward to the time I get to spend with her. I’m usually not very selfish, but with the time I get to spend with her, I am selfish.”
Hobson said it’s rewarding to work with Nelson and other recipients because she can see the difference it makes in their lives.
And although Hobson and Nelson were regular participants in Tyotkas activities before they joined the Senior Companion Program, they knew little about each other.
Now they are good friends.
“With people like her, I can’t help but smile,” Nelson said.
Find your companion
To learn more about the Senior Companion Program, please contact Heather Daniels at 907-335-7282. The program is seeking volunteers as well as recipients.