By KURT HAUGLIE
Houghton Daily Mining Gazette
HANCOCK - The Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly visiting program is not only good for the organization's elderly friends, it's good for the visitors too, according to Cynthia Drake.
Drake, who is LBFE visiting program coordinator, said currently there are 66 volunteer visitors spending time with 182 elderly friends in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties. Baraga and Ontonagon counties have only recently been added to the LBFE service area, so the organization is seeking volunteer visitors there.
The visiting program started soon after LBFE established a presence in Houghton County 31 years ago, Drake said.
"This is the heart of what Little Brothers does," she said. "Alleviating loneliness is our goal."
Drake said the process to become a visiting volunteer begins with filling out an application and an interview with LBFE Volunteer Coordinator Cathy Aten. During that interview, the person being interviewed can mention he or she would like to be a visitor, and then talk to Drake, who will try to best match the volunteer with an elderly friend based on personality profiles.
"We try to do a match as well as we can," she said. "From there, the program takes off."
Although they may say they want a visitor, Drake said some of their elderly friends may at first have a little difficulty responding positively to a visitor, but with persistence, it usually works out.
"Those are always fun to see break through," she said.
There are situations exactly opposite of the reluctant elderly friend with those who very much enjoy having a visitor, Drake said.
"We definitely have the sweet old grandma types," she said.
Volunteers conduct visits an average of twice a week, Drake said. Some visit every day, but the frequency of visits is determined by the volunteer and the elderly friend. The volunteers may or may not do things for the person being visited, such as some cleaning of the house or apartment, but that's not a requirement of the visit. The important thing is companionship.
If a volunteer finds an elderly friend is living in poor conditions, Drake said the volunteer will let her know, then she'll try to determine if local officials should be contacted about the situation.
Occasionally, Drake said elderly friends will be visited by LBFE staff, including herself, if a volunteer isn't available.
"Staff are amazing," she said. "I can't say enough about them."
Last Thursday, Drake conducted a picnic to recognize the efforts of the volunteers. One of those volunteers, Arlene Young, provided a written statement about her experiences with the program, which read, in part, "It is what we should do for each other in society," she wrote. "It circles on beyond us."
Those interested in volunteering for the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly visiting program can call Cynthia Drake at 482-6944 or go on the organization's website, houghton.littlebrothers.org.
Drake said visiting can be done on trial basis. Volunteers can start by making deliveries of hot meals during the LBFE Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. They can also make a single visit during the rest of the year.
"There's always a time when somebody can just try it," she said.
It's important people know about the LBFE volunteer visitor program, Drake said, because many people in the community may not even know it exists.
"They're doing wonderful things, but it's very hidden," she said.