By LeRae Haynes —
Being able to live comfortably and safely in their own home as long as possible is an enormous benefit for seniors, according to Better at Home co-ordinator Carrie Sundahl. She says the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of seniors can be greatly enhanced with a mix of practical in-home services and positive relationships with caring volunteers.
Better at Home, funded by the BC government, managed by United Way of the Lower Mainland, and overseen by the Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre board of directors, provides services for seniors living in Williams Lake, living alone or as a couple with a household age of 65 and older. At present, Better at Home only services the Williams Lake community.
Sundahl, along with office administrator Kimberly Futcher, recruits volunteers for non-medical services for seniors in their homes—light housekeeping, friendly visiting, minor home repairs, light yard work, show shovelling, grocery shopping, and transportation to medical appointments.
The Better at Home office, located at the Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre, opened November, 2013. The organization’s list of 100 active clients continues to grow, as does its need for volunteers.
Sundahl explained the Better at Home experience is incredibly positive for both the clients and the volunteers.
“Many of our clients live alone and don’t have family to help, and when they look around and see their home clean and repaired and their lawn mown and tidy, it reminds them that someone values them and takes care of them,” she says.
“For them to stay in their own homes is really important: it’s security for them. They’re surrounded by memories and things that are comfortable and familiar. If they didn’t have these services they would be especially isolated and vulnerable.”
She says one of the things they get a lot of positive feedback about, from both clients and volunteers, is the friendly visiting. “Any volunteer going into someone’s home builds a relationship, which can be a true gift. Some of our volunteers have lost parents and grandparents, and say, ‘I wasn’t able to do this for my own mom: now I can do this for someone who really needs it.’”
She adds some of the volunteers are retirees who find out about the group and want to help. “They have a lifetime of skills and experience and want to give back,” says Sundahl. “Our volunteers come from unexpected places, and range in age from 16 to their 70s. We have seen love and affection grow between the seniors and our volunteers.”
A compassionate heart, a desire to help, and an appreciation for seniors is what it takes to be a Better at Home volunteer, according to Sundahl. “Our vision is to help them feel good about staying in their own home as long as possible, respect them, and treat them with dignity,” she says. “It’s not just the services we provide—it’s more than that. Many seniors feel no one wants to bother with them because they’re old. They have incredible stories and a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom.”
She says Better at Home services fills a huge gap in the community, adding they are given limited funds that they apply for every year. “The seniors pay a fee for all services except for grocery shopping and friendly visiting, but we provide a sliding scale that comes with subsidies,” he says. “We make every effort to accommodate our low-income clients: they pay what they can afford. When people can afford it, the money is put back into the budget to be able to help more clients. We also accept and welcome donations.
“People are so appreciative. One 91-year-old client said, ‘I can’t believe that someone cares that much, to do even such small things for me.’ Both clients and volunteers say, ‘You have really changed my life.’”
She says one of the things they really need, especially going into winter, is volunteer drivers to help with grocery shopping and medical appointments.
“We need volunteers for friendly visiting, too,” she continues. “Sometimes just a phone call means the world to someone who is lonely and needs a connection. That has such a positive impact on their overall well-being. Just having someone consistently visit them at home once a week means someone is looking after them, someone is keeping an eye on them—someone will come.”
One of the unique aspects of Better at Home is requests for service come directly from the seniors. “This is their choice, and their decision. They choose us,” she said. “We’re here to enhance their lives, encourage and support their independence, and fill in where they need us.”
For more information about Better at Home, including how to become a volunteer, phone (778) 412-2430, drop by the office at the Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre at 176 N4th Ave., visit the website at www.betterathome.ca, and follow the group on Facebook.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, songwriter, co-producer of “Pursicles,” and the community co-ordinator for Success by 6. She is also the instigator of a lot of musical shenanigans in Williams Lake including “Borderband” with kids and is a member of the “Perfect Match” dance band.