Story of the Week 2/1/15-2/7/15


A Day in the Life of an AmeriCorps Member at the Central Vermont Council on Aging

By Martha SmyrskiMarthaSmyrski,COA

According to the position description, the purpose of the VHCB AmeriCorps member at the Central Vermont Council on Aging is to “build community partnerships and volunteer capacity so as to provide direct services to elders in our community”.  In everyday terms, I work to build up our bank of active volunteers, strengthen our partnerships with schools, community organizations and corporations in our service area and match available volunteers to the needs of our clients.

We receive requests for services either through a client's caseworker, the statewide Senior Help Line, or from the seniors themselves.  Requests range from stacking wood, help packing or unpacking for a move, transportation to doctor’s appointments or grocery shopping, to simple companionship once every one or two weeks.  One of our most common requests is for help organizing papers or creating a filing system to help seniors keep on top of their mail, etc.

My job is to find a volunteer either from our stable of active volunteers or to go into the community and recruit someone to provide that particular service.  This means matching the need of the senior and the talent and/or interest of the volunteer, their personalities, their schedules and the geographical area.

After a lifetime of independence, some clients have difficulty asking for help or do not want someone in their home.  Others are suspicious that someone will try to control their lives or take advantage of them.  They may deal with any one of a myriad of physical or memory, and sometimes, financial problems.

In mid-January, we received a request from a lady, we’ll call her “Phoebe”, who needed help setting up a filing system to keep track of her mail and deciding what she needed to keep or discard.  I called Phoebe and asked her about her needs.  She confirmed that she needed help and told me that she was interested in getting into a local assisted housing facility.  She had started the application which required detailed financial and historical information, but had not been able to finish it.  I had a particular volunteer in mind, a long-time volunteer.  Coincidentally, I had worked with this woman in another context and knew that she had superior organizational skills and was a very kind, patient person.  Because she works full time, she is only available on Saturdays or Sundays.  I asked Phoebe if she had any preferences for a volunteer, if she wanted to work with a man or woman.  She had no preference and was agreeable to having someone come on a weekend.

I called the volunteer and asked if she would be interested in helping Phoebe.  Volunteers always have the option of accepting or declining a particular service.  This volunteer was willing to give it a try and gave me some available dates.  CVCOA’s policy is for the AmeriCorps member to go to the initial meeting to introduce the client and the volunteer to judge whether they “click”, so I must find a date that works for all three of us.  After several calls back and forth, we settled on a Saturday just a few days off.

I called Phoebe the day before the scheduled meeting to remind her of our appointment.  She told me she did not understand how this person was going to help, how she would know what to throw out, and why it would take two of us to do it.  It was clear that she was very anxious and it would not be productive to go forward.  We cancelled the meeting and I told Phoebe I would call her the following week.  I spent the rest of the afternoon calling and e-mailing the volunteer to make sure she knew that the meeting was off.

About a week later, I called Phoebe and spoke to her again about her request.  I told her that if she wanted to proceed, our first meeting would just be to get to know one another.  She would not have to do anything or show the volunteer any of her papers.  I assured her that the volunteer would not throw anything out without her permission and that she (the volunteer) had helped other people do this same thing.  I told her my role would be just to introduce the two of them.  Phoebe agreed to an initial meeting. I coordinated with the volunteer and we set up a meeting that Sunday, just two (2) days hence.

On the morning of that meeting, I called Phoebe to confirm.  She was very cheerful and told me she was looking forward to our visit.  I met the volunteer a few minutes early and we went together to Phoebe’s home.  Phoebe welcomed us, took our coats and led us into her neat-as-a-pin living room.  We chatted for a while.  Phoebe told us about growing up in the area, about how much she liked her apartment and the kindness of her landlord.  She also told us she had fallen once in her home and had to call an ambulance, and that she was concerned about what she would do when she could no longer drive.  She told us that she often stayed up at night worrying about her papers.  Phoebe wanted to go to a particular assisted living facility but had not filed an application, which she deemed her “fault”.  There were no piles of paper around the house and I saw no evidence of clutter.  I said my good-byes after half an hour and left Phoebe and the volunteer to get to know each other.

Later that evening, I received a call from the volunteer.  She was very excited and told me the visit had gone well.  After I left, Phoebe allowed her to look at some of her papers which included a partially completed application to the chosen facility.  They reviewed the application and found they needed more up-to-date information.  She and Phoebe had exchanged telephone numbers and made an appointment for more work the following Saturday.

I called Phoebe the next working day.  She told me she liked the volunteer very much, and that they had worked on the application.  However, she was worried about who would file the application with the facility.  I assured her that the volunteer would take care of the application and we would get it filed.

This is just an example of the on-again/off-again pattern of work with our volunteer program at CVCOA.  Each experience runs the full range of emotions –from concern about being able to meet a client’s needs, to frustration when the client changes his or her mind or the nature of the service he or she needs, and finally, satisfaction at making a truly working match.

Martha meeting with COA Volunteer


VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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