CLINTON — It’s the season of giving and in between the hustle and bustle of gift shopping, Your Neighbors, Inc. hopes local residents may find some of their time to give back this holiday season.
Your Neighbors, which is an affiliate of LutheranCare at 108 Utica Road, couples trained volunteers with clients who are elderly, frail or have a disability, in their home setting, so they may remain in their homes.
Volunteers offer friendly visits, transportation to medical appointments, prescription pick-up, supplemental frozen home-cooked meal deliveries and specialized shopping services. YNI works with local agencies, such as Visiting Nurses, the county Office for the Aging, Nacentia, hospital discharge planners and others who refer seniors to the program.
Volunteers are asked to spend 2 to 3 hours of their time each month, helping a client once or twice.
“We have been serving the greater Utica area since 1982 and our mission is to help homebound persons remain in their own homes, especially if they have no, or very little, family in the area to help them,” said long-time volunteer Carole Grove. “All of the groups mentioned above refer such persons to us, so that is where our clients come from. Our main services are home-cooked meals, which are placed into freezer quality trays, dated and labeled, so that we essentially maintain a ‘Food Bank’ of fully prepared, home-cooked meals that are readily accessible when we receive a referral.”
Some of the outreach workers from the partnering organizations are also allowed to access YNI’s freezers, she said. In addition to the full meals, YNI also offers containers of homemade soup (also frozen) and several extra “goodies” that are provided through the volunteer organization’s clients and friends.
“Another service is assistance with grocery shopping, since some people can cook for themselves as long as they can get to the grocery store,” Carol added. “And a third service is a ‘companion medical ride,’ where the client/friend is not just dropped off, but is accompanied throughout the medical appointment and assisted with picking up prescriptions” and other errands.
Carol’s husband Ed, also a long-time volunteer, said the most valuable asset of YNI is “time,” and while it’s natural for anyone to be hesitant about giving their free time for fear of “giving away their independence,” it’s something their group cherishes.
“It is clearly stated that the volunteer controls when and how much they are willing and able to do,” Ed said. “When they are asked if they can help ‘Mary or Joe,’ they can say, ‘Yes or No,’ always. If the volunteer can offer one day’s help a month, that limit is respected.”
Ed said because Meals on Wheels has had such reduced funding that they have difficulty meeting current needs — there is a three-month waiting list — home-cooked meal deliveries have become an essential part of the program.
“Your Neighbors very often fills that gap and does so on one day’s notice,” he said. “The person then transitions to the government program as the wait list clears out. The most common meal delivery scenario involves no more effort than picking up the meals,” going to the client’s house, “ringing the doorbell and saying, ‘Have a good day.’”
On the shopping assistance side, often times services involve just a drop-off and pick-up later at the store. But sometimes the person is accompanied and as the volunteer gets to know the client’s food habits, they often will remind them that they “usually get cheese” and the client will reply, “Oh yes, I forgot. Thank you for reminding me,” Grove said.
“It’s a simple detail, but it makes a huge difference, especially compared to a taxi service,” he said. “Usually the volunteer gets to do some of their own shopping and two birds are killed with one stone. I took a fellow shopping and I kept a rough mental total going so that I knew he wouldn’t go over his allotted funds. Again, details.”
As for rides to medical appointments, Carole said she likes to tell the story of the woman she took once who was diagnosed with breast cancer at that appointment.
“Imagine being told this devastating news and getting in a taxi to go home — alone,” she said. Instead, Carole took her new friend for coffee and a pastry to talk through the diagnosis and to settle her anxiety.
Sometimes a client will ask that the volunteer, of “friend,” accompany them into the doctor’s office because it is hard to understand and remember everything the physician says. On the way home, it can all be explained so that the client more fully understands and can comply.
“One client had new glasses, but they broke on the first day. He had been given a free Medicaid ride to his eye appointments, but could not get a ride to get the repair,” Ed said. “The Your Neighbors volunteer took him for a quick drop-off of the broken glasses while running other errands in town and then took him to pick up the repairs a week or so later, again while other errands were being run. The extra effort to do this was so very minimal and so very important to the ‘friend.’”
Volunteers and time are what keeps Your Neighbors going, which is why the non-profit could use some extra hands and hearts to assist others in need.
“Getting volunteers is very hard,” Ed said. “Everyone fears that volunteering means giving up their independence and cherished free time, but our message is that Your Neighbors does not do this.”
Your Neighbors also seeks opportunities to present the program and explain its 35 years of on-going service to the community to different groups and organizations.
Those interested in volunteering their time and being paired with a client, or would like representatives to come speak to their organization, may call YNI at 315-235-7149. Additional information and client referral forms may also be found online at www.yourneighborsinc.org.
“It has been said that success is finding a need and filling it,” Ed said. “Your Neighbors succeeds as the link between those in need and the volunteers who can fill the need.”