St. Lawrence County volunteer program to support isolated North Country seniors

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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — A new volunteer-based program is expanding in the North Country to provide additional support to older residents in the region.

The Community Health Center of the North Country is preparing to launch its Community Friendship Volunteer Program in St. Lawrence County. The program has been running for eight years in Franklin County and focuses on maintaining the independence of local seniors.

The volunteer program has several goals embedded into maintaining independence. This includes building age-friendly communities, helping older residents remain in their own homes, having access to services and recreation and remaining out of long-term care facilities unless necessary.

Additionally, the program aims to target those who potentially “slip through the cracks,” providing services to those who might not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford to pay for assistance. According to the center’s Director of Communications and Marketing Ray Babowicz, this is what makes the program unique.

“There’s always there’s that group of people that are kind of stuck in the middle, that fall through the crack,” Babowicz said. “If you have too many assets to qualify for services available through Medicaid, but obviously you’re not independently wealthy and can’t afford to privately pay for all your own home care. That’s where you quickly can get lost in the system. And that’s what makes this program unique.”

For the program volunteer service range, this can include home visits, crafts or gardening, assistance with meal preparation, phone conversations, coordination of transportation to medical appointments, prescription pick-up, recreational activities, assistance with housework or grocery shopping, and access to art, music and literature.

The program’s expansion is tentatively set for early January 2022 and is now seeking volunteers. These volunteers will attend orientations this fall to prepare and familiarize themselves with the operations of the program.

“It’s very easy and quick for our older members of the community to become isolated and even more so in rural areas like here in the North Country,” Babowicz said. “For months, all of us were experiencing what older residents experience all the time.”

“We couldn’t do anything, and very quickly it can really have a negative impact on your mental and behavioral wellbeing, which then impacts your physical wellbeing. So I think the pandemic really showed and reminded all of us how important programs like are,” he said.

Community Health Center of the North Country has two of these two-day orientations scheduled. The first will be held on September 15 and September 16, with the second on November 3 and November 4. Volunteers will attend both days in each set from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Ogdensburg Health Center. The orientation is also available on zoom.

Volunteers of all ages will be accepted. Interested volunteers can contact the Community Health Center of the North Country’s St. Lawrence County Coordinator at 315-379-8345

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