No matter what essential help a low-income Whatcom County senior might need, there’s likely to be a willing volunteer with the skills to match the task.
Just ask Summer Starr and Abby Lund. They never stop being amazed at the generosity of so many local residents who achieve meaningful connections with seniors 60 and older and people with disabilities via the Volunteer Chore Program, which is part of the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County.
Starr is the volunteer and events coordinator for the Volunteer Center, which two years ago became part of The Opportunity Council. Lund leads the Volunteer Chore Program, which is part of the Volunteer Center.
“In general, the Volunteer Center is blown away by the number of local people who volunteer,” says Starr who notes about 1,300 new registrants on the organization’s web site. “Whenever I share our numbers with other volunteer centers in Washington State, people are impressed.”
Lund is just as gratified.
“Our community is pretty special,” Lund says. “I get to work with an amazing group of people who are extremely passionate.”
Dozens doing chores
Lund says that at any given time, close to 100 local people – many of them themselves seniors – are doing the chores that help many seniors and/or people with disabilities make the most of daily life.
The Chore Program, in existence since 1995, matches what vetted volunteers would like to do to help seniors who need those chores done. Starr and Lund say 960 matches were made in 2017.
Some of the chores might seem routine, such as lawn mowing, and some call for special expertise, such as helping a senior with limited vision cope with voice recognition software.
“We are a direct service program … Many of the tasks are essentially pretty basic,” Lund says. “A lot of them can be taken for granted (by younger, able-bodied people). But for our clients, the tasks can be huge. Having volunteer help gives our clients a chance to focus on their quality of life.”
Lund notes that “there is such a wide variety of ways we can help people.
“The chores can include housework, laundry, essential transport (to a doctor or grocery store, for example, but not to the movies), yard care or small repairs, such as installing a grab bar in a bathroom. Some of our volunteers read mail to people with impaired vision and some make deliveries to our clients from the Bellingham Food Bank.”
Two big differences
Lund says there are two primary differences in contrast to other programs: Low-income seniors are specifically eligible for help and they pay no fees to remain members of The Chore Program.
“If we have enough volunteers (when a chore needs to be completed), we can sometimes help people above the low-income threshold,” Lund says. “We use HUD (Housing and Urban Development) income standards.”
Lund says volunteers should not be asked to replace what able-bodied friends and family members can do.
“We are one of the last resorts for people who really need the help,” she says.
The Volunteer Center does considerable outreach and holds volunteer fairs at colleges and high schools.
“Community building is another big reason (the Volunteer Chore Program exists),” Starr says. “A lot of times there are people who don’t really have community in their lives. It’s hard for someone to be in a situation needing help.”
As Lund puts it, “Half the joy of the experience for our volunteers is the friendships they can make.”
Volunteers can be eligible for flexible scheduling and mileage reimbursement.
Seniors are free to ask for a different volunteer if the first volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable with a given task or with being asked to do more than originally assigned.
“Some volunteers have a hard time saying no,” Lund says. ’We want them to be doing chores they are comfortable with. We try to talk with volunteers about having good boundaries.”
TO BECOME A VOLUNTEER
Call 360-734-5121 ext. 172 to set up a time for orientation and to fill out the necessary forms (including a background check). Or, go online whatcomvolunteer.org/volunteer-chore-program.
For e-mail, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.