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Friendly Visitor program connects lonely seniors with community volunteers
Friendly visitors pic1
Chuck Hodges and Eileen King talk about the good old days during a recent visit. King is a volunteer with the Friendly Visitors Program through the Area Agency on Aging. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

Chuck Hodges has lived a full life. He is a two-time Army veteran —Korea and Vietnam. He has held down numerous jobs in his life from dish washer, to garbage collector and truck driver. Now, at the age of 81, he no longer works, but enjoys fishing, bowling and dancing.

Over the past few years, however, the Turlock resident has missed something in his life — someone to talk to on a regular basis.

Enter the Area Agency on Aging and the Friendly Visitors Program. Through the visitors program, Hodges was introduced to Eileen King, another Turlock senior who was looking for a way to make a difference in the community.

She visits Hodges at his residence — St. Francis Assisted Living — four to five times a week. They just sit and talk about the past or upcoming events in town. Sometimes they go shopping and last month they planned a special outing.

“We went to the fair together to see Clint Black,” Hodges said.

King has been a volunteer with the Friendly Visitors Program for two years.

“Basically it’s just visiting,” King said. “When you’re in the hospital and no one comes visit, it’s quite lonesome.

“I hope that somebody will one day visit me when I’m in a place like that.”

The Friendly Visitors Program was created two years ago after the Area Agency on Aging lost funding for its Linkages program. Linkages paired seniors in need with a case manager who met with them regularly. When the community was made aware of the impact of the loss of that program, volunteers stepped in to fill the gap.

“We’ve known for a long time that there are seniors who, for one reason or another, are alone. With the loss of Linkages, we realized folks out there are willing to volunteer,” said Linda Lowe, planner at the Area Agency on Aging.

Thus, the Friendly Visitors Program, which relies on volunteer visitors, was created. The Agency on Aging matched up 30 volunteers with lonely Stanislaus County seniors when the program began. Today, the agency receives dozens of referrals for volunteer visitors from doctors, senior organizations and individuals looking for help. Recently, the program was able to receive funding from Prop. 63 through the Mental Health Services Act.

“We prevent folks from slipping into depression, and attempt to reach people in their homes,” Lowe said.

The program does not work, however, without the volunteer visitors.

“More people are volunteering because they want to make a difference,” she said. “A lot of people get the fact that California is out of money and I need to do my part to help.

“It’s really rewarding to see.”

The Agency on Aging has seen a wide range of people willing to volunteer. According to Lowe, half of their volunteers work full time. She said they have had Girls Scouts go on visits, and their oldest volunteer is 94 years old.

“He’s just the kind of guy who’s always doing stuff,” Lowe said.

Tracy Morgan, a graduate student at California State University, Stanislaus, said she got involved in the Friendly Visitors Program to meet people.

“I have a strong feeling for the need of people to be visible and not be lonely and be valued,” she said. “It made me realize how difficult it is to get older and how little resources are out there.”

To volunteer for the Friendly Visitors Program, contact Alicia James at the Area Agency on Aging at 525-4613.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.