Though retired from the service for 14 years, 68 year-old veteran Larry Mills found he wasn't done serving. He answered this call by serving fellow veterans through the Senior Companion program, one of three Senior Corps programs at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Across the country, Senior Companions provide care and companionship for aging adults, those with disabilities or terminal illnesses, and offer respite for caregivers.
Eighty-five Senior Companions in the Greater Salt Lake region serve more than 260 individuals who need extra assistance to live independently in their own homes. Low-income senior volunteers with the Senior Companion program also qualify for a living, non-taxable stipend. The stipend helps with bills and enables them to volunteer without a cost to themselves.
In Salt Lake City, the program has a unique partnership with the Salt Lake City Veterans Administration Medical Center. There, four senior companions, also veterans themselves, work with the VA Home-Based Primary Care Unit to serve veterans who receive in-home services and provide respite care for their caregivers.
“The last place you want to go is away from your home and the Senior Companion is a resource that can help those individuals do that,” said Dwight Rasmussen, Director of the Senior Companion Program at the Salt Lake County Aging Services. “One of the things keeping older individuals living independently is companionship. Isolation and depression are correlated and can have a negative impact on one's health.”
Mills takes his service as a Senior Companion seriously, providing vital companionship and camaraderie to his fellow veterans who served in World War II and Vietnam.
“A lot of these guys are fighting to stay independent and not go to a care center,” said Mills. “I try to do the best job I can, helping them stay independent. I know they also value the companionship, where we share a common bond of love for our country and being a veteran.”
When spending time with his clients, Mills shares his love for history and has started genealogy projects for three of his clients, helping them learn about their past and who they are. The program is mutually beneficial; the service benefits Mills as much as it helps the men he serves.
“It gives me an opportunity to get out of the apartment and stay active. It's hard to find people who are upbeat and so positive, despite their circumstances,” said Mills.
“Volunteering is an extension of service to the country and helps our local community by helping people in need. I am always so thrilled every morning when I go in and help these guys. It's not work – it's a labor of love.”