The Roundup -

Senior Companions Program to Begin in McKenzie County


January 24, 2018 | View PDF

The steering committee for Senior Companions Program in McKenzie County (left to right) Vicki Bauer, Rita Hovet, Marcia Hellandsaas and Karolin Jappe. (Photo by Jordan Hall)

Many of McKenzie County seniors are living alone, without necessary help for their daily needs or basic, regular companionship. A steering committee met Thursday, January 18 at the McKenzie County Extension Office to present a solution to the problem.

Marcia Hellandsaas, the Extension Agent for McKenzie County Family and Consumer Sciences, Karolin Jappe, the Emergency Manager for McKenzie County, and two other volunteers, Rita Hovet and Vicki Bauer, gathered to discuss the solution presented by Lutheran Social Services. Another volunteer, Nyla Dahl, was not present. The program is called the Senior Companions Program of North Dakota and it provides a unique resolution to the issue of senior citizens with companionship needs.

Headed up by the Senior Companions Program coordinator, Sonja Mickelson of Minot, the program recruits male and female volunteers to serve senior citizens in their homes. This program will provide a financial stipend to qualifying individuals to provide 15 or more hours of companionship per week to the aged. If someone loves to help others and has an income less than $23,760, they can receive a monthly stipend for their labors of love to the elderly. Although the individuals may do light housework or chores, their primary function is to develop caring and nurturing relationships. Those who do not qualify for the financial stipend but who still want to help can still volunteer and will have certain expenses, such as transportation expense or mileage, reimbursed.

The benefits of the program are multifaceted according to the steering committee. First, elderly residents who do not have regular contact with companions are more likely to need assisted living or nursing home care. If that's the case, costs may exceed more than ten thousand dollars a month, which is often financially covered by the taxpayer. It is much more feasible to provide a small amount of money (up to $530 a month, according to program guidelines) to caring companions than to shift the burden to institutional care. Secondly, the financial benefit to those who provide the caring companionship is certainly positive. Third and finally, the program models an important community value of taking care of one another.

Karolin Jappe explained that the idea came up when she and Marcia Hellandsaas were at a Salvation Army meeting. She said, "We were at the Salvation Army one day and we were talking about the elderly, and we worry about the elderly and here's why. We have a lot of elderly people that have nobody in their homes, and it just breaks your heart."

Marcia Hellandsaas said that Mickelson came from Minot and explained the Senior Companion Program to the group and said, "We decided yes, this is what we need. We need to reach out. There have got to be a lot of people who need this, and a lot who would be willing to be a volunteer companion or senior companion, and so we are looking for both."

Those who may benefit from the program include those who are 55 years or older and are living in their own home. Volunteers need to be 18 years or older, be dependable, have a satisfactory driving record and be able to provide friendship, social recreation, and help with light activities. Those interested in the program should contact the Companions Program Coordinator, Sonja Mickelson, at 701-838-7800.


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