More than just a ride, volunteers offer friendship

Volunteer Ken Hickson’s visits with Richard Bell give his family members a needed break.
Volunteer Ken Hickson’s visits with Richard Bell give his family members a needed break. Courtesy of Jim Colman/Center for Volunteer Giving

Lynne Templeton reels off the services provided by the Center for Volunteer Caregiving with a confidence that befits an executive director: Transportation to doctor appointments for the elderly and disabled, help with grocery shopping, and simple companionship for the homebound.

Volunteers provide more than transportation, she explains. It’s more than door-to-door; it’s door-through-door – they wait while clients are at the doctor’s office and take notes on prescribed medications, guide them on shopping trips and carry their bags back into the home, and provide a welcome respite for family members who are housebound themselves because caring for a disabled loved one is all-consuming.

Templeton pauses to offer a concise and compassionate summation: “Every service we provide is a friendly visit.”

For Connie Southerland of Apex, those friendly visits are precious.

After her husband, Howard, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 2008 while on a business trip to Chicago, he has only 25 percent heart function, is unable to walk and has suffered some mental impairment. After triple-bypass surgery, he retired. The couple moved to the beach for 18 months but returned to the Triangle to be closer to their two adult daughters.

Howard didn’t want “help;” he wanted Connie to be at his side at all times. Through the Center for Volunteer Caregiving they met Bob Bailey, a new volunteer who had moved to Cary from Iowa. Recently retired, Bailey says he was looking for “something to give me a purpose.”

His path to a purpose went through the caregiving center, and the destination was being Howard Southerland’s checkers buddy.

“He loves to play checkers,” Bailey says. “He’s a good player, too.”

Every Monday, Bailey shows up at the Southerland home for checkers with Howard. The games can go on for three and a half hours. During that time, Connie Southerland gets her respite.

“It’s a godsend,” she says. “It gives me a chance to get out.”

Howard doesn’t always remember that it’s Monday and that Bob is coming over for checkers, Connie says. “But when I tell him he gets so excited. He gets the checkerboard out three hours early.

“Bob makes everything happen. He has such a caring heart. It makes Mondays beautiful for us.”

Lynne Templeton says about 80 percent of the CVC’s clients are seniors and 20 percent are adults with disabilities. A typical client is an older woman with no family or friends close by.

“We want them to live in their homes as long as possible,” she says.

The center needs more volunteer caregivers. One problem is that many volunteers can lend a hand only on weekends, but the needs of the elderly and infirm need to be met every day.

About a third of the helpers find the Center for Voluntary Caregiving online; others through contact with another volunteer. Another major source is corporations that financially back the center, who want to see their employees get involved with outreach work. Templeton also would like to see more faith communities get involved.

Daytime availability is a big plus, hence the preponderance of retirees in the volunteer roster. Many clients are lonely during the workweek, Templeton explains, and it usually takes two to four hours a week to develop a bond with a client. Orientation for new volunteers takes about two hours; it can be done online or at the CVC offices in Cary. A background check is required; otherwise volunteers cannot drive clients. And basic training is offered, although many volunteers come in with an understanding of what is needed.

But the need for more volunteer caregivers is a constant.

“The ‘silver tsunami’ is here, and it’s only going to get worse,” says Julie Keely, the center’s transportation coordinator.

‘Other walks of life’

In early 2014 Peter Nicolaisen responded to an item in The News & Observer and started driving clients for The Center for Volunteer Caregiving. He had retired from a job in the Research Triangle Park, spent some time seeing the USA on his motorcycle “just to get that out of my system,” and was ready to make his retirement meaningful.

Today he puts lots of miles every year on his car driving two CVC clients to appointments and on shopping trips. And some of those trips can be lessons in gratitude.

Nicolaisen tells of a grocery-shopping trip with a woman who lives in downtown Raleigh. She was stuck at home, taking care of a handicapped child, and it was clear that the family was critically short of money. They got to talking about the dinner menu at her home and he learned that she loved pork chops but couldn’t afford them.

“I said, ‘How about if I buy you all your ingredients for pork chops tonight?’ The lady just lit up. She said she hadn’t had that in years.

“It cost me $15, and it was such a great feeling. It made me realize what a reach that is for someone else. It felt like Christmas and Easter all in one day.”

He recalls driving a man with essentially no sight to his doctor’s appointment, and marveling at how well he got around his home. When he got to the doctor’s office, he knew exactly where in his wallet to find his photo ID and the exact bills for his copay. Nicolaisen, a native of Germany, also bonded with another client, a 94-year-old woman from France, and the two compared and contrasted their lives in Europe with life in the United States.

“You get to see a lot of other walks of life,” he says.

For Templeton, helping those in “other walks of life” means filling a vital gap in service to the elderly and disabled.

“Our population is typically just above the cutoff for Medicaid, but they can’t pay $20 an hour for help.

And there’s always a waiting list.”

The Center for Volunteer Caregiving

1150 SE Maynard Road, Suite 210

Cary, NC 27511


Contact: Julie Keely, 919-460-0567

Description: The mission of The Center for Volunteer Caregiving is to engage the community in providing volunteer services to improve the lives of seniors, caregivers, and adults with disabilities in Wake County. This year, 809 adults received services through volunteers in our three programs: Transportation, In Home Services and Caregiver Support.

In one-on-one interactions, from getting groceries and rides to the doctor, to light housekeeping and caregiver respite, volunteers provide support, companionship and assistance allowing care receivers to remain connected to their community and in their homes as long as possible. Since 1992, the Center has worked hand-in-hand with Wake County community partners including volunteers, donors, faith communities and social service agencies as well as businesses and other philanthropic groups.

Donations needed: First and foremost we need your time. For more information about how to become a volunteer please contact the center. Additionally, the following items remain on our wish list:

1. Visa gift cards that could be used for groceries or prescriptions throughout the year

2. Gas cards for our volunteers who provide services all year long

3. iPods and iTunes gift cards to create personalized music lists for those with dementia

4. A holiday housecleaning (with handheld vacuum cleaner left behind)

5. Small decorated table-top Christmas trees for those celebrating Christmas

6. Stockings with tissues, nightlights, chapstick, Vaseline, fresh fruit, gift cards

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer