20 Jan Remember the Peace Corps? Look for a Peace Corps Of Caregivers
Who remembers the Peace Corps? It was a government program, a way for mostly young volunteers to help others while expanding their own world views that goes back to the Kennedy administration. Volunteers served two years in foreign countries. But no one was assigned to Paris or London; rather, they went to developing countries they’d never heard of—Djibouti, Nicaragua or Niger.
The Peace Corps was a successful program
Those I knew who participated in the Peace Corps learned so much from this experience. One colleague helped build irrigation systems in rural Guatemala. He knew nothing about irrigation when he graduated from college. He’d lived a pretty pampered life, and being thrown into this situation was startling for him. He was suddenly the project manager with absolutely no idea what to do. Yet he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. The experience was a difference-maker in his life. He developed self-reliance and problem-solving skills that he’d never had before. He fell in love with Guatemala and its warm, generous people. The experience shaped his career and his life.
Using the Peace Corps model to help seniors age in place
So what would happen if we used that model and created a national program that mobilized volunteers to help seniors age in place? One is on the way.
Look for the emergence of the National Volunteer Care Corps
The Administration for Community Living, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is taking steps to establish a National Volunteer Care Corps.
If this program is successful, healthy retirees and young adults would check in on seniors, take them to appointments, shop for groceries, shovel sidewalks, or just come for a visit to relieve them from isolation. They would be giving family caregivers a much-needed break. Younger volunteers might get class credit at a community college or small stipends. Older volunteers could enjoy a satisfying sense of purpose.
The need is immediate and growing
The need is dramatic and growing as the ranks of the oldest Americans ― those age 85 and up, who tend to have multiple chronic illnesses and difficulty performing daily tasks ― are set to swell to 14.6M in 2040, up from more than 6M now.
Who will care for these seniors?
- More than 34M unpaid family caregivers currently shoulder that responsibility, along with 3.3M paid personal care and home health aides.
- Remember that most of these family caregivers are stretched thin, working full time, caring for their kids as they care for their parents or other elderly family members.
- Filling those jobs is difficult due to low pay, difficult work conditions, limited opportunities for professional advancement and high turnover.
Four organizations will spearhead the Care Corps project
Oasis Institute, which runs the nation’s largest volunteer intergenerational tutoring program; the Caregiver Action Network; the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging; and the Altarum Institute, which works to improve care for vulnerable older adults.
The initial grant is $3.8M; total funding for the five-year project is expected to be $19M.
It starts with small grants to develop innovative programs
Up to 30 organizations will get 18-month grants of $30,000 to $250,000. The goal is to discover innovative, effective programs that offer services to diverse communities. “We’re aiming to create a volunteer infrastructure that can last and be sustainable.”
- All volunteers will undergo background checks and training, with an emphasis on evaluating program results.
- Services could include preparing meals, taking seniors to church or home-based tech support for computer users, among many other possibilities.
Care Corps faces big challenges
The grant is tiny, compared with the trillions of dollars spent on health care.
- It could take a long time to build it into a national effort that attracts more investment.
- Recruiting volunteers could be another challenge. This is the biggest issue we face,” said executive director Elaine Whitford. “We get a lot of interest,” Whitford said, “then people realize that this just isn’t going to fit into their schedules.”
Small amounts of volunteer caregiving can make big differences in people’s lives
“Volunteer caregiving can make the difference between someone having quality of life and not having any at all,” said Inez Russell, board chair of the organization. She’s also the founder of Friends for Life, a Texas program that offers volunteer aid to seniors trying to live independently and that reaches out to seniors who don’t have family members on birthdays and holidays, among other services. Altogether, the two programs reach about 4,000 people a year.
Another creative way to stay connected and create community: A time bank
In Montpelier, VT, Joan Black, who’s 88 and lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment, has been a member of a time bank for ten years. Members contribute goods and services (a ride to the airport, a homemade casserole, a newly knit baby sweater) to the time bank and receive goods and services in exchange. Black gives out information about the program at farmers markets and other community events–her way of banking credits.
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