As the significant segment of older Americans in our society continues to grow, so will the need for programs which aid these citizens and enable them to lead full, productive lives. It is the responsibility of all Americans to ensure that seniors are able to enjoy an excellent quality of life.
Exchange Clubs, as part of their overall commitment to community service, should welcome the opportunity to reach out to older Americans, helping them remain in the mainstream of society and assisting them in meeting their special needs in whatever ways possible.
The following project suggestions will enable Exchange Clubs to make a lasting and important difference in the lives of their community’s seniors. In addition to the activities listed, there is a wide variety of other projects that could be conducted. Clubs are encouraged to survey the needs of their community and then select those activities that will have the greatest impact on the areas of greatest need.
This outstanding and rewarding program, originated by the Exchange Club of Quincy, Ill., brings together energetic, enthusiastic youth and residents of nursing homes. Through the Adopt-a-Grandparent program, fifth through eighth grade students from local schools are given the opportunity to adopt a nursing home resident as a "grandparent." These young people build lasting friendships through monthly visits to the care facilities. In addition to the regular visits, the young people are encouraged to write letters, make cards and send presents to their adopted grandparents. The seniors are encouraged to do likewise.
This program provides the seniors with a sense of purpose and belonging, and helps children to better understand the aging process while developing a sense of social responsibility and community awareness. Because of this, the program should be limited to fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders, who are better able to understand these concepts.
To get started, contact and explain the program to local school principals. Once the schools agree to participate, contact the directors of selected nursing homes or other care facilities to obtain their support and approval and determine which residents are best suited for the program.
Take a photograph of each "grandparent" and provide a brief biography. Before bringing the students and seniors together for the first time, the activities director and an Exchange Club representative should visit the participating classes to orient the students on the life-styles of their prospective "grandparents." Topics addressed should include: the aging process; physical condition of the seniors; and wheelchair operation.
The first meeting should be relaxed and informal, with the students and seniors chatting about likes and dislikes over a dish of ice cream or some other refreshment. The initial encounter is also an appropriate time for the participants to be presented with official adoption certificates by Exchange Club representatives. Official Adopt-a-Grandparent certificates are available from National Headquarters.
The subject and organization of subsequent meetings should be determined by the students, seniors, teachers and activities directors. Nature walks, games, sharing stories and photo albums and holiday parties are just a few of the many activities possible. Encourage the participation of the youths’ parents in all activities.
While your Exchange Club will continue to play a supporting role, it is recommended that club members allow the seniors and students the freedom to maintain an ongoing relationship on their own. Club representatives should maintain contact with the schools and nursing homes, to offer any special assistance that may be necessary.
It is recommended that the Adopt-a-Grandparent program be conducted for at least one full school year with each group of students and seniors.
The Golden Key program is another worthwhile activity which brings together young and old for the benefit of both. The program utilizes the resources of concerned seniors to help address the problem of latchkey children, those children who must stay home alone after school until their parents return from work. Through the Golden Key program, volunteer seniors call the latchkey children each day to verify their safety and provide companionship.
To get started, your Exchange Club representatives should contact the local board of education to determine if there is a need for this service in the community. If so, club representatives should seek the board’s approval and support, as well as that of the individual schools involved.
The next step is to recruit volunteer seniors. Local senior centers are a good source for volunteers. Your Exchange Club may want to hold an open meeting at a senior center, where members can explain the program and ask for volunteers. Your club may also publicize your volunteer recruitment effort with news releases and public service announcements. The older persons who would like to participate in the program should be required to apply through the local board of education, which must carefully screen each applicant with the assistance of the police department.
At the same time, the participating schools announce the program to students’ parents. Again, Exchange Club leaders could hold an open meeting to explain the program to interested parties. Parents interested in participating should then complete an application form for each child they would like to enroll in the program. Once completed, the application should be returned to the school.
When the Golden Key Pal is paired with a child, the child’s name and telephone number, the parents’ business phone numbers, the family physician’s number and emergency procedures should be provided for the Pal, with instructions to call at designated times every school day to check on the child. If the child does not answer at the designated time, the Pal should continue to call for a specified time and then contact a parent to verify the child’s safety. The child is furnished with the code name and phone number of the Golden Key Pal to call for companionship, conversation, or assistance.
The child should know that if the Pal does not call at the prearranged time, he is to contact the Pal. If the Golden Key Pal does not answer, the child should call a parent. This ensures the well-being of the seniors, who in some cases have little contact outside their homes.
Club members should keep regular communication with the participating schools to make certain the program is running smoothly. Your Exchange Club may also choose to honor the participating seniors at a special club meeting or banquet.
This simple, effective program enables Exchange Club members to provide daily phone calls to older persons. In many cases, a brief phone call can make a world of difference to a solitary man or woman who feels neglected or forgotten. Even more importantly, the daily phone calls allow the Exchangite to regularly check on the seniors’ health and safety.
The Calling Card program is easy to implement and keep going. The area office on aging, senior housing project directors, hospitals, and physicians specializing in treating older persons can all provide valuable assistance in locating suitable candidates for the project. Next, get in touch with those seniors to see if they would like to take advantage of your club’s Calling Card program. Obtain the name, address, and phone number of each interested individual, and if possible, the name and phone number of a neighbor who can be reached, if necessary.
The next step is to assign one or more of the seniors to each Exchangite who is able to participate. Then give each Exchangite a Calling Card — an index card with the name, address, and phone number of the person they’ll be calling.
Once the callers and seniors have been matched up, the members should call, introduce themselves, and determine a practical daily time to call. It’s also a good idea to find out a little more about the seniors at that time, such as if they have any significant medical problems.
After all the preliminaries have been handled, the Exchangite simply calls the senior each day at the designated time.
The daily conversations can be brief and to the point, but if time permits, the member should try to spend some time getting to know the senior and finding areas of common interest.
If the senior does not answer when called, the Exchangite should wait five minutes and try again. If there is still no answer, the designated neighbor should be called and asked to walk over and make sure the senior is all right.
Once the Calling Card program is in place, it should continue for as long as possible. Since it requires only minutes a day on the part of each Exchangite, it can and should be a year-round affair. An Exchange Club can take the Calling Card program one step further by presenting the seniors with food baskets or other appropriate gifts at various times of the year, such as Christmas, Easter, or Senior Citizens Month, observed each May.
Many older Americans are still vital, contributing members of society, who deserve to be properly recognized for their achievements. A special award of some kind, presented to a senior who has performed an outstanding service to the community or excelled in some way, can serve to not only honor and reward that individual, but also to heighten community awareness and appreciation of the many important contributions of older citizens.
For example, your Exchange Club may choose to annually present a Senior Citizen of the Year Award to an older person who continues to serve your community in some significant way. Clubs are encouraged to develop their own criteria for the award on the local level. Suitable candidates for such an award can be found by contacting nursing homes, senior centers, churches, social service agencies, and similar organizations. Numerous plaques suitable for this type of award are available from National Headquarters.
Many residents of nursing care facilities are often forgotten except at holidays, but they need friendly visitors and special assistance all year long. Besides the Adopt-a-Grandparent program already described, Exchange Clubs can arrange for members to periodically visit the residents, sponsor parties and other special activities or donate needed equipment or supplies to local senior centers or nursing homes. Some suggested donations include: large print books and magazines; hearing aids and dentures; old eyeglass frames (to be recycled); Bingo prizes; and craft supplies.
Clubs may also wish to plan an outing for nursing home residents. Many times, such an event can be a pleasant change of pace from the seniors’ daily routines.
The speakers featured at your Exchange Club meetings could also make excellent speakers at nursing homes and senior centers. At the end of your regular meeting, invite the speaker to appear at a senior citizens’ gathering, offering to make all the necessary arrangements.
Check with local nursing care facilities to determine how your Exchange Club can best help.