Volunteers needed for island senior assistance program

Neighbor to Neighbor, a program of the Vashon Senior Center intended to help island elders remain in their homes, needs additional volunteers.

Currently, the program has about 30 volunteers, two-thirds of whom participate frequently, according to Ava Apple, the former senior center director who is still coordinating Neighbor to Neighbor. She would like to add 10 to 15 more people, islanders who enjoy the company of seniors and would be willing to help with a variety of tasks. The most pressing need: drivers for on-island trips.

“Transportation is big,” Apple said, emphatically.

All participants in the program are mobile, and volunteers do not need to be strong and agile enough to manage wheelchairs, although some participants use walkers.

Islander Jane Neubauer, who considers herself “mostly retired,” has been a volunteer driver with Neighbor to Neighbor since it began five years ago. Once or twice a month, she said, she drives someone to an appointment at Neighborcare or to other local businesses for errands.

It is a nice volunteer opportunity with flexible scheduling, both Neubauer and Apple said. Apple sends out volunteer requests to volunteers, who respond “yes” if they can do it — with no “nos” involved.

As if often the case with volunteering, there are personal rewards for those who lend a hand.

“They have amazingly fascinating stories,” Neubauer said about the islanders she helps. “It is always an interesting morning or afternoon.”

From her volunteer time, Neubauer has seen first hand that life on the island for seniors, especially those who can no longer drive, can be a lonely experience.

“A lot of people are pretty isolated,” she said.

Apple agrees — and that is part of what the Neighbor to Neighbor program is about: decreasing isolation and tending to needs that might seem small but can be large impediments to seniors trying to live as independently as possible. In addition to driving, Neighbor to Neighbor tasks include minor home repairs, reading to people or making a phone call and checking in on someone.

“It can be that simple, just listening and creating connection,” Apple said.

Since it began in 2013, Neighbor to Neighbor has helped more than 100 seniors, with volunteers providing about 1,000 hours of assistance each year.

Currently, there are about 25 active clients, and more are welcome to participate, Apple said.

Both people who would like assistance as well as potential volunteers should call Apple at 206-209-0009. Volunteers undergo a background check and need a good driving record.

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