What difference can just one man make?
Well, if that man has a friendly spirit, boundless energy and a heart for service, a pretty big one.
Sallee is such a man. One of the MVPs in our Volunteer Companion Program, the affable and good-natured 65-year-old has provided smiles, friendship and independent living support to nearly 50 Minot seniors since he first joined up with the LSSND-run program in January 2017.
John’s clients rave about the many ways he’s helped them, giving rides, completing small household repairs, visiting with them and just plain being there when they need help. We visited with 13 of the clients he serves and learned of the dozens of ways he has enriched their lives.
“John is a wonderful, wonderful man and has a heart the size of Texas,” says one client.
“I love John,” says another. “He is an awesome person. I think a lot of him. He’s made a big impact on my life.”
“(John) is such a nice person that will help a person no matter what,” another client says. “He is a very giving person.”
Even now, when social-distancing protocols make it difficult to visit his elderly clients, John finds ways to connect. He delivers Meals on Wheels, which enables him to see some of his clients every day.
He also makes a special effort to support his clients who can’t have face-to-face visits. “One of my clients is now in the nursing home and has no other relatives, and I continue to call and take care of him from here. He is like family to me,” John says.
A helper at heart
Both programs pair volunteers with lonely, homebound older adults to help with tasks such as
personal care, social recreation and light in-home duties. These programs aim to alleviate loneliness while allowing seniors to continue living independently in their own homes.
John liked that the mileage reimbursement he receives through the Volunteer Companion Program doesn’t qualify as income, so doesn’t affect his social security benefits. His volunteer work also keeps him busy, which is important for a man who used to work three jobs at once. It also lets him spend plenty of hours behind the wheel to run errands and give rides. “I love to drive,” he says, simply.
But at the heart of it all, John is a real people-person who likes to help.
“I just like to learn about people and see how they are doing and just hang out,” he says.
John tells of one client who was new to North Dakota and Minot, so he took the time to give her a driving tour of the city. “She really appreciated that, and we continue to have a close connection,” he says.
Several other clients shared that if John was unable to take them to appointments, they wouldn’t know what to do. John provides voluntary transportation to many low-income clients who are on limited budgets and would have to otherwise pay for a ride they could not afford. John ensures that his clients get to needed appointments, grocery stores, the bank and/or pharmacies to pick up medications.
He assists them in many other ways too. John helped one of his clients shop for a table and chairs set. After the volunteer found a set on sale, he also assembled it for him. The hard-working volunteer has done everything from light lifting tasks for clients to troubleshooting tech problems they might be having with their cell phones.
This program ‘saved my life’
But for many of his clients, John’s greatest gift is simply being there. As loneliness can be especially detrimental to seniors, his clients love having someone to stop by, listen to them and ask how they are doing. One of them shared that John “visits a while with me. I like that.”
Several other clients report that they do not have any family close by, which makes a companion, like John, especially beneficial. “Someone is always there to check in and support me at home,” one of his female clients says.
John’s clients especially appreciate his lively sense of humor and easy-going nature. Says John’s client: “(John) is a good friend and is always willing to talk to you. He is funny!”
Another client shares how she values their friendship and shows her gratitude to John: “I’ll make his favorite hot dish – mac and cheese.”
These clients not only appreciate the generous volunteer who gives so much time, but also the Volunteer Companion program that makes it possible.
“I just want to thank you guys for opening the door to us,” one of his clients says. “Many of us are so poor and can’t do things. I don’t know what we would do without this program!”
As another client put it: “To find out there was a program like this saved my life.”
Despite the raves, John remains modest about his many contributions. To him, it’s just the right thing to do. “I always give everything I can to everything I do,” he says. “If I have the time and energy, I will give back to others.”
To learn more about our Senior Companions (for volunteers 55+) and Volunteer Companions (for volunteers 18+), contact firstname.lastname@example.org
– Tammy Swift and Andrea Lang