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Need a friend, be a friend — Program matches seniors with volunteers


Have an hour a week to spare and want to spend it in a creative way getting to know your neighbors?

Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli and Shelter Island Presbyterian Church member Marilynn Pysher are hoping you will join a corps of volunteers for training and then be matched with one of the town’s elderly residents who share your interests.

These seniors may be homebound by necessity or choice, but that doesn’t mean they have to be isolated. And one of the benefits for volunteers to the “Friendly Visitors” program” is, in Ms. Pysher’s words, “You always get more than you give.”

The concept is simple. Ms. Fanelli will match each senior she knows with a volunteer who has the same interests.

There’s a need to avoid isolation, she said, in a world where families are often separated by many miles, and people who retired on Shelter Island have found themselves alone after the loss of a spouse, Sometimes, children many miles away are not aware a parent has needs that aren’t being met. In other cases, children know the circumstances and reach out to the Senior Center to ask for assistance.

According to the organizers of Friendly Visitors, volunteers may visit the senior in his or her home an hour a week, or invite them out to a meal, such as the low-cost Dinner Bell lunches at the Presbyterian Church on Mondays and Fridays.

By giving the gift of friendship, the organizers said, volunteers will receive that same gift in return, along with information and lessons in life experiences from the senior.

The Senior Center has a number of programs during the week, and Ms. Fanelli visits seniors to check on their needs. But that can’t equal having a friend a senior can truly get to know, she said.

Ms. Fanelli said she knows about a dozen seniors who would benefit from and welcome such a relationship, and Ms. Pysher said there may be others out there who w ould value such a relationship but haven’t made themselves known.

That dozen could easily be 20, Ms. Pysher estimated.

“We want to get everyone on the Island signed up as either a volunteer or a senior who could benefit from regular visits,” she added.

Male volunteers are especially needed, Ms. Fanelli said. A man interested in sailing might just learn a few tricks from a senior who has plied these waters for many more years.

Of course, all information about each senior is confidential, and proper vetting of volunteers, matching volunteers with seniors, will guarantee their safety, Ms. Fanelli said.

If you’re a senior who would welcome a new friend in your life or a volunteer with an hour to give each week to enhance your own life, call Shelter Island Senior Services at 631-749-1059 or email [email protected]