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Style Magazine

Friendly Visitors Program

May 31, 2008 05:00PM ● By Super Admin

All too often elderly men and women find themselves facing a common enemy: loneliness. Whether from an illness, an inability to drive, or distant family and friends, many homebound seniors miss out on the social interactions important in living a full, vibrant life. Enter El Dorado County's Friendly Visitors Program.

With funding from Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, and administered by the El Dorado County Area Agency on Aging, this rewarding program was founded in 2007 to bring local volunteers to seniors for a once-a-week visit to enjoy conversation or a shared hobby. The program has a wide reach, covering all of El Dorado County from El Dorado Hills to South Lake Tahoe and Garden Valley to Somerset. “Everyone’s well-being is improved when they have social contact with others that is meaningful,” says Connie Zelinsky, Coordinator of Volunteers. Zelinsky became involved in March of 2007, having worked for El Dorado County Human Services for a year prior and as a volunteer for Youth for Understanding. “I learned that people find so much meaning and satisfaction getting to know each other and learning from each other,” she says. “They may worry that they won’t know what to talk about, but, with time, they really come to know and appreciate each other.”

While Zelinsky says she enjoys her own visits with the seniors, her greatest satisfaction comes from the friendships that grow between her volunteers and the people they call on. “As unique as each of them are, the volunteers also bring something different and special to the program,” she notes. “Each comes with different talents and experiences to share. I’m in awe of the good that people can do,” Zelinsky says.

Participating as a volunteer requires a few mandatory steps. After filling out an application, new volunteers are invited in for an hour-and-a-half training session, which includes information on how the program works and what the program expects from volunteers. All applicants are also screened via a criminal background check for the safety of the seniors. Friendly Visitors pays for all fingerprinting costs and can reimburse for some mileage expenses as well.

As the program grows and evolves, Zelinsky says some of the best feedback comes from the volunteers and seniors themselves. All participants are encouraged to speak up and contribute their comments and opinions on how to improve the program. It’s this spirit of community and conversation the program thrives on. “All it takes is one hour of the week giving someone their undivided attention,” says Zelinksy. “That is a very special gift that anyone can give.” •

For more information on volunteering or to receive an application, contact Connie Zelinsky by phone at 530-621-6119, or by email at [email protected].