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Senior Companions: A Connection to the Community

by Kate Enos
 

Columbus, OH is home to the second-largest Somali population in the U.S. and the number of low-income, aging immigrants with little or no family nearby is growing. Speaking little or no English and no access to transportation, Somali seniors are struggling to continue living independent lives.

Many have turned to the Senior Companion Program in Columbus, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that has found a niche in the Somali community. The program matches senior Somali volunteers with aging Somali immigrants who need help with daily tasks and transportation to important medical appointments.

The Senior Companion Program, which is operated locally through Catholic Social Services, currently has 110 volunteers, with 50% serving immigrant and refugee communities. In addition to the Somali community, Senior Companions also serve Russian, Cambodian, Hispanic, Chinese, and Mandarin populations.

The program has worked closely with several Somali community organizations to reach out and share the resources it offers and to recruit Somali volunteers, ages 55+, who can serve aging Somali clients. The volunteers speak both English and their native language, helping translate the needs of their clients at pharmacies and hospitals.

Senior Companion volunteers also help clients with household chores, sort through mail and bills, teach them the public transportation system, instruct them how to operate simple technologies like washers, dryers, or microwaves, shop for groceries, and pick up their prescriptions.

A vital part of the program is providing socialization between the Somali senior companion and the Somali clients they serve. Sometimes, it includes a trip to a local restaurant where many in the community fraternize. Most socialization happens at home, where the senior companions provide clients with news back from home in Somalia or the weather on the horizon in Columbus.

79-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a senior companion for five years, serves three clients. He serves five days a week, helping his clients for four hours a day.

“I listen to the news and if there is weather alerts like a tornado or snow, I immediately call my clients and make sure they are aware and know what to do in case of an emergency,” said Mohamed. “Many of my clients are isolated and I feel like the time I spend with them goes a long way in keeping them connected with our Somali community.”

“Every day, I hear from Senior Companion volunteers who say this program gives them a purpose and a connection to the community,” said Tara Cox, Coordinator of the Senior Companion Program in Columbus.

“This is even more true for the refugee communities – when they come here and are over the age of 60, there aren't a lot of opportunities to give back in their community and this program has found a niche in providing vital volunteer opportunities to immigrants.”

The Senior Companion Program is one of three signature Senior Corps programs. Each year Senior Corps engages 450,000 older Americans in service to their communities through the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service.

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