Companion program has reciprocal benefits for volunteers and seniors
GREENVILLE—For nearly a year, Mary Beth Edenfield has helped Margaret Scarlett, 84, shop for groceries, and travel to doctor and hairdresser appointments.
“We share a lot of friendship,” Edenfield said. “She has enriched my life. I get more out of our time together than she does, although she’ll tell you just the opposite.”
Edenfield participates in Senior Companions, a program of Catholic Charities of the Piedmont that links older people with more mobile volunteers. It was started in 2006 for seniors who live alone and have no transportation.
The program is funded through a grant with Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.
“We call each other our blessing,” Edenfield said of Scarlett.
Currently 85 seniors are in the program, according to Stacey Lazurek, program coordinator. Each senior is matched with a companion who has attended a five-hour training session led by Lazurek and Nancy Pearce, author of “Inside Alzheimer’s: How to Hear and Honor Connections with a Person who has Dementia.”
Pearce is a geriatric social worker from the Greenville area who works in long-term health care and hospice settings. She specializes in helping people with dementia and holds workshops on how to communicate and connect effectively with them.
Volunteers are required to devote at least one hour per session with their senior, Lazurek said, and they are expected to commit to the program for at least a year, although many go beyond that requirement.
In some cases the companion simply visits a homebound person for an hour or so. Lazurek said around 80 percent of the volunteers stay with the program past the one-year mark.
“Sometimes the volunteer has moved out of the Greenville area, or in the case of younger volunteers, another commitment comes along and they’re forced to leave the program,” Lazurek said.
Most of the volunteers are in their 50s and 60s, she said, although there are a few who are in their late 20s.
The program is open to all denominations.
Lazurek, who is a member of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, has coordinated the program for 18 months.
She said the program is designed to assist seniors with their day-to-day living, but larger benefits typically fall to the volunteers.
“The seniors have a lot of stories to tell and a lot of experiences to share,” Lazurek said.
Edenfield became involved in the program when she was looking for volunteer activities and a way to be involved in the community. She said Scarlett and her children have grown close, and they have learned from their time with the senior.
Scarlett is a native of New York, but has lived in the Greenville area for 55 years. She is a member of St. Mary Church in Greenville, and Edenfield is a member of Prince of Peace Church.
Scarlett looks forward to her time with Edenfield and her family.
“Her children are very nice,” Scarlett said. “They took me to see ‘The Nutcracker’ in Greenville and I took them out to dinner. It’s a reciprocal deal.”
Scarlett has shared her experiences with Edenfield’s family, a history that includes her years at the Juilliard School in New York, where she studied music.
“I was hoping to be at the Metropolitan Opera, but I never made it,” she said with a chuckle.
Instead, Scarlett brought her voice to St. Mary, where she sang in the church choir. The association with Scarlett has been an enriching experience for Edenfield’s family.
“It’s has become a way for my children to better understand the aging process and understand that the elderly have feelings and emotions,” Edenfield said. “The wisdom that they have, both spiritually and in everyday living, is special.”
The next Senior Companion training program will be held Feb. 20 at the Gallivan Center, 204 Douthit St., in Greenville. To sign up, contact Stacey Lazurek at (864) 242-2233 ext. 207 or email@example.com.