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During Pandemic, Volunteering With Seniors Goes Virtual

Older woman sitting in car while younger woman stands by
Janet Simmons, a volunteer driver for the Shephard's Center of Richmond, has been calling clients to check in on them. (Photo: Shephard's Center of Richmond)

Before the coronavirus, a grassroots group of volunteer drivers would regularly take about 200 seniors in the Richmond area to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store. During the pandemic, they’ve largely stopped driving services and have started having volunteers call seniors to check-in instead. Volunteers are now called “friendly callers.”

“I'm doing that [having volunteers make calls] not only to make sure our clients are taken care of, but also our volunteers, because they miss being able to get out there and help our folks get to doctors’ appointments,” said Julie Adams Buchanan, executive director of the Shepherd’s Center of Richmond. “Usually they [volunteers] feel very useful. And now they're not feeling useful. And so I felt like we needed to make them feel useful. So I said, ‘Well, we can't drive them, but we can call them.’”

The average age of a Shepherd’s Center member is 75. The group’s mission is to help older residents stay active, engaged and independent. A big part of that mission is also preventing social isolation, especially now. “Now, we're looking at it straight in the face,” Adams Buchanan said.

And many of the organization’s volunteers are seniors, too, like Janet Simmons. After Simmons retired, she started volunteering as a driver. Lately, she’s been calling her regulars instead.

“Every week I check in with them, sometimes twice so I can see how they're doing,” Simmons said. “And then I have others that I’ve driven less often, but they remember who I am. And I just call them and we chat for, you know, 10 minutes, maybe 15. And just how are you doing? How's everybody where you're at? How are you keeping busy?”

The group is waiting to see how the state’s phase one goes before they consider resuming regular driving services and start accepting new clients. They are, however, still making sure those with critical health needs can get to a doctor during the pandemic. 

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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