The Florida Blue Foundation has awarded the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA) a $100,000 grant to revive the Council’s existing Senior Companion Program. The previously unfunded program is dedicated to reducing social isolation amongst disadvantaged seniors living in Osceola County.
“Osceola County is home to more than 50,000 residents ages 65 and older, and these numbers are growing rapidly, making our Senior Companion Program an essential resource that focuses on the well-being of our senior population,” said Wendy Coschignano-Ford, president/CEO of the Osceola Council on Aging.
The goal of this grant is to help the OCOA increase its reach by providing additional companionship to more seniors. The program improves quality of life, provides a sense of purpose, while encouraging healthy mental stimulation, and addresses critical needs in support of maintaining one’s independence. “Our goal is to help seniors live the rest of their lives in the comfort of their own home,” added Ford. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reported that approximately one in four older adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, and this number is expected to double to 15 million by 2030.
“Your physical health is greatly dependent upon your mental health. Loneliness and social isolation can have significant impacts on the health of older adults by increasing the risk of premature death, dementia, heart disease and stroke,” said Susan Towler, Florida Blue Foundation executive director. “The Florida Blue Foundation is focused on improving the mental well-being of seniors in our communities. We value the collaborative relationship Osceola Council on Aging has developed with volunteers and the community to combat social isolation and are eager to see how our investment can further their efforts.”
A senior companion is a volunteer who provides non-medical care by way of physical support (such as grocery shipping, meal preparation or transportation), emotional support and friendship. The companion maintains the link between the senior and the rest of society. The Senior Companion Program is aimed at seniors who are healthy and want to remain independent at home. It is designed to provide services that help make life less lonely.
The OCOA began recruiting volunteer companion representatives in December in anticipation of expanding the service. “Most of our volunteer training has been completed so we’ll plan to have representatives in the field, matched with clients in the next week or so,” added Ford. “We are so appreciative of this grant from the Florida Blue Foundation. We expect by expanding our client reach, we will see improved health-related results with our seniors,” added Ford.
Important to note, the program serves as an added income opportunity for companionship representatives. Qualified volunteers receive an hourly, non-taxable stipend and transportation costs.
For those interested in becoming a companion volunteer, contact Marie Blackford at firstname.lastname@example.org. All applicants will require a background screening. If selected, companion volunteers will be required to attend service training before being matched with a client.