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Utah County program bringing together retirees, seniors

April 13, 2018

This photo taken Jan. 5, 2018, shows Marian Christensen, left, and Felicity Varkevisser writing a list for grocery shopping in Christensen's home in Provo, Utah. Christensen lives alone in her home and is turning 98-years-old next month. (Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via AP)

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Felicity Varkevisser got tired of looking at the four walls of her apartment and took a chance on becoming a volunteer for the Senior Companion program.

Since Varkevisser started in the program, she has been meeting Marian Christensen for a few hours each week for seven years. They have filled their time together with grocery shopping, household chores, and talking about current events and their families.

“I really look forward to her coming on Fridays, because she does the shopping, but we also sit and visit,” Marian Christensen said. Marian Christensen is nearing her 98th birthday, but continues to live in her home in Provo.

The two women’s relationship started because of the Senior Companion program, which pairs able seniors with seniors who are much more limited in their mobility and independence.

Varkevisser is thankful for the opportunities and friendships that have developed from her time in the program, “I never would have got to meet Marian if I wasn’t in the program.”

Marianne Christensen, the Senior Companion program coordinator, sees the program as one of the county’s best-kept secrets. “I just can’t believe the impact it has on the volunteer’s life and the clients,” Marianne Christensen said.

The volunteers commit to 15 hours a week or more and generally visit between five to 10 clients per week. Volunteers receive a stipend of $2.65 per hour, but there is no charge for the seniors that are receiving the service.

“It’s a practical service, it is something I enjoy doing and I really enjoy visiting with Marian,” Varkevisser said.

The volunteers’ visits are often a social opportunity for the clients, but the volunteers can help mitigate issues by seeking assistance for their clients. “They watch that individual, if they notice anything significant, they can alert the coordinators, APS, or the family,” Marianne Christensen said.

The Senior Companion program that serves Utah County was originally funded through a grant in 1989 and served three counties: Utah, Summit, and Wasatch. In 2002, Utah County became a sponsor of the program.

Marianne Christensen is thankful for the great partnership and understanding that the county has for the program, “They understand that keeping our seniors active and involved plays a big part in the resources being used.”

In 2017, the budget of the program was nearly $305,000. The funding from the federal grant was 63 percent of the budget, the county funded 28 percent, and the state and local entities funded 9 percent.

Throughout 2017, over 300 clients were served through the Senior Companions program, but usually, it was only 190 to 200 active clients at a time.

Even though Senior Companions will be meeting with multiple clients, there is a longevity built into the program that isn’t found in many other services. “We’ve got some (volunteers) that have served the same client for over 10 years,” Marianne Christensen said.

Varkevisser’s assistance to Marian Christensen has changed over the past seven years. The pair used to go grocery shopping together, but now, Varkevisser will take a list from Marian to the store on her own. “I would define it as developing a friendship,” Varkevisser said, “I don’t think you can really do it, just thinking that’s a client.”

Varkevisser also said that she is very open to the idea of having a Senior Companion visit her in the future if there is a need.

Currently, the Senior Companion program has 31 volunteers, but is funded for 36 volunteers. Marianne Christensen wouldn’t mind having upwards of 38 volunteers, “It really just depends on the need.”

In the 2018 Utah County Community Assessment by the United Way of Utah County, the projected retirement-age population is estimated to grow from 40,057 residents over the age of 65 to 56,747 residents over the age of 65 in 2020. This growth is expected to continue on the following decades.

With this demographic growth, Marianne Christensen hopes the program can pull from those that are retiring. “Hopefully, we are going to be able to tap into those retiring, and keep them active, engaged in the community through serving other seniors,” Christensen said.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com

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