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Style Magazine

Senior Peer Counseling

Dec 07, 2011 02:09AM ● By Style

Photo by Dante Fontana

Sometimes, it just helps knowing someone is there to listen.

For more than two decades, Senior Peer Counseling of El Dorado County (SPC) has been providing that listening ear for local seniors. Through free one-on-one counseling, SPC helps seniors cope with any number of issues, from depression, loneliness and grief to “just dealing with the aging process.” SPC also connects seniors to the resources and services they need.

The organization is staffed entirely by local seniors who want to help their peers live the best lives they can. Some, like Mary Kelly, have been with SPC for years. “I see such a need for these services, yet I know how hard it is for people to pick up the phone and ask for help,” she says. “I really encourage the seniors in our community to call us. We’re an impartial listening ear, we’re completely confidential, and we specialize in creating a safe environment to talk.” Kelly’s fellow volunteers come from several walks of life and include retired nurses, teachers, and drug and alcohol counselors. In total, SPC has about 15 members – ranging in age from 60 to 90 – serving nearly two-dozen clients in El Dorado County on an annual budget of less than $15,000.

Becoming a client is easy. Once someone contacts SPC, there’s an initial one-hour “intake” meeting. Seniors who continue with the group arrange weekly, one-hour sessions to talk with volunteers. “We cater the sessions to our clients’ needs,” Kelly says. “We can meet in our office, at their home or (talk) over the phone, and they can meet with us for as long as they need.”    

While they’re not licensed therapists, SPC volunteers do undergo training in peer counseling and are supported by a licensed clinical therapist who meets with the group weekly to assist them in working with clients and help direct clients to resources. The involvement of the licensed therapist is a must, but it’s not free. SPC needs new sources of funding and new volunteers almost every year. Grants from the El Dorado Community Foundation and the El Dorado Women’s Fund have been central to keeping the doors open. With the current state of the economy, the organization’s future is by no means clear.

Financial issues aside, Kelly says SPC hopes to increase its volunteer staff in the coming year and provide the training needed via a 50-hour class to be offered in early 2012. Volunteers, like SPC clients, must be El Dorado County residents and are asked to make a one-year commitment to the organization.

“I’ve learned so much about what can happen when someone is just willing to be supportive and listen,” Kelly says. “Resources for seniors are slowly vanishing; that’s all the more reason we want to help, and why we hope other seniors in our community will join us.”

For more information, call 530-621-6304.