April is National Volunteer Month and NYCEAC honors volunteers working for elder justice in elder abuse prevention and response programs across the country.

Elder justice programs with volunteer components help to significantly impact efforts to counter ageism, promote social integration, and transform lives. Volunteer programs prevent elder abuse by reducing social isolation which is a well-known risk factor. Their volunteers improve how care services are provided and allow elders to live happier and healthier lives with needed support and valuable companionship.

Volunteerism is important, too, because it fills community resource gaps, boosting the ability of elder justice organizations to fulfill their missions and meet goals. Even micro-volunteers, who volunteer in small bits of time, play an important role by doing things like arranging transportation to medical visits, delivering meals or advocating on behalf of elder crime victims, among other roles.

 Millions of Americans care deeply about older adults, and want to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. One way for the elder justice movement to build momentum and deepen our impact is by creating volunteer opportunities for people to contribute their time and energy to this important cause.
– Risa Breckman, Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center

There are many organizations around the country utilizing volunteers to advance elder justice. The following list of inspiring volunteer programs was generated by NYCEAC doing a “shout out” for information on the National Center for Elder Abuse’s listserv. Many thanks to those responding!

We are excited to share the information provided to us below. We recognize that this is not an exhaustive list of programs, so if you would like to contribute information on an elder justice volunteer program not mentioned here, please do so in the comment box at the end of the blog.

The Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) in Philadelphia, was founded in 1977 and originally conceived as a project of the city’s Public Interest Law Center. Today, the center’s diverse volunteer opportunities include PAVE, which accompanies elder crime victims to court, and the Senior Medicare Patrol program, which educates and empowers seniors to prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud. Volunteers, who work anywhere from four hours per month to 10 hours a week, also may serve as a Long Term Care Ombudsman, among other options, to help advocate for the rights and quality of life of elders residing in nursing and personal care homes.

The Consumer Fraud and Financial Abuse Unit of AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE) teams up with volunteer attorneys to mount a unified and strong line of defense to protect the property and consumer rights of low-income elder residents in Washington, DC. Many cases involve financial exploitation by predators who take homes and equity accumulated over generations of ownership. Through LCE’s Pro Bono Project, established in 1977, volunteer attorneys from the private sector and government provide free civil legal services, from ensuring that elders receive public benefits such as Social Security to preventing eviction.

DOROT (the Hebrew word for “generations”) is a dynamic partnership of professionals and volunteers in the New York City area that is dedicated to reducing isolation and enhancing the lives of homebound and homeless elders and fostering friendship and respect between the generations. Since 1976, DOROT has provided food, companionship, education, and cultural enrichment to thousands of elderly New Yorkers and those who care for them. Located on New York’s Upper West Side, it is a non–sectarian, culturally Jewish agency whose volunteer opportunities include holiday package delivery, friendly visits, reading assistance for the visually impaired, travel companions, including escorts to medical appointments and shopping assistance. Opportunities also include teaching seniors over the phone through University Without Walls, and serving meals at DOROT’s Homelessness Prevention Program.

The Elder Rights Center of Excellence in West Palm Beach, Fla., uses a collaborative and client-centered approach to advocate for older victims of crime, particularly those whose cognitive or medical issues make it difficult to access community resources. Its Senior Advocates are volunteers who connect with elder crime victims, helping them and their loved ones prevent, respond to, and recover from crimes, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Volunteers offer resources and assist in reviewing police reports, among other tasks. In cases where an older adult has experienced fraud, scams, exploitation or identity theft, volunteers provides detailed advice about crime recovery. They also share information about topics such as how to alert banks about fraud, set up automatic alerts, and file complaints with the appropriate regulatory agencies, allowing elder crime victims to recover from incidents and move forward into safer and more stable financial futures.

The Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), which falls under Marin County’s Aging and Adult Protective Services program in California, serves more than 450 individuals per year with a two-fold mission: To work with Adult Protective Services, the District Attorney’s Office, police, sheriff’s investigators, and Legal Aid on cases that involve financial abuse, and to provide volunteers to go out into the community to educate seniors and others on how to protect themselves from financial abuse such as identifying scams. Community volunteers include mostly retired professionals from the fields of insurance, real estate, law, financial planning and accounting.

The Knoxville-Knox County Office on Aging’s Senior Corps offers volunteer opportunities both for and with individuals over age 55 in their Tennessee communities. Senior Corps programs with volunteer components include Connecting Hearts, which provides extra help, meals, and companionship to elders who have been identified as extremely socially isolated and having limited access to food. Volunteers (either one person or a small group) are paired with elders and are committed to visiting up to two hours a week for six months. Its Foster Grandparent Program provides opportunities for qualified, low-income elders to work with children having special or exceptional needs.

The York County Elder Abuse Task Force in southern Maine is a volunteer group of committed professionals law enforcement, social services, legal services for the elderly, and financial institutions, among other professions. Since 2005, volunteers have come together to share knowledge and skills and to serve as a resource to educate the public about elder abuse. The task force has participated in and developed many innovative and nationally recognized activities, including a training video and a Wishing Well program thatgrantselders a lifetime wish. It also sponsors a scholarship for graduating seniors based on a winning essay around an elder abuse theme,conducts mobile awareness discussions and presentations, and holds a very successful annual educational conference.

The NYC Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC) utilizes volunteers through our Elder Abuse Helpline for Concerned Persons Advisory Board and our Risk and Resiliency Internship Project (RRIP). The Helpline leadership includes the voices of volunteers Philip C. Marshall and Nancy Oatts, who are both passionate elder justice advocates and concerned persons (“concerned persons” are family, friends and neighbors in the lives of elder abuse victims). It is as a direct result of their time, shared experiences and input that the Helpline has been successful. RRIP is specifically designed to educate undergraduate students about the value of older adults as well as the different types of abuse that can occur later in life. The “resiliency” side of the program brings interns and older adults together through use of The Legacy Project’s structured interview method. The “risk” part of the program provides interns an opportunity to learn about elder abuse response by attending elder abuse multidisciplinary team meetings and visiting community-based elder abuse intervention programs. Students also blog for NYCEAC’s Elder Justice Dispatch, and then conduct an elder abuse awareness project on their college campus when classes commence in the fall.

While the programs and older adults benefit greatly from the volunteers, volunteering can have deeply meaningful benefits for those giving of themselves. And sometimes those benefits may be of the unexpected variety, for example:

Slowly throughout this summer… I have answered that question students frequently ask: “What should I do with my life?” After being exposed to so many different options within the elder justice field, I realized that I was being called to social work. It is now my goal to start an elder abuse shelter in my hometown and start making a difference where no one else is.
– Emily, RRIP intern, Summer 2017

Do you know of an elder justice program utilizing volunteers?

If so, please tell us about it in the comment box below.

– By NYCEAC’s Elder Justice Dispatch Team

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