Seniors who report extreme social disconnectedness or perceived isolation have only a 40% chance of reporting very good or excellent health. Befrienders, a local nonprofit, seeks to enrich the quality of life for seniors in Gallatin Valley by “befriending” them. Seniors over the age of 65 can apply for a “befriender” who commits to visiting with them for at least one hour each week for various activities ranging from going out to lunch to running errands to simply talking. Think Thrive’s CAP mentoring program or Big Brothers Big Sisters, but for seniors in our community!
For senior Erma and her befriender Heidi, a student at Montana State University, they focus on laughing together while also teaching Heidi how to sew during their two hours of time together each week. In their two years of Befriendership, Erma has passed on her love of sewing to Heidi, who didn’t sew growing up. They’ve enjoyed going to thrift and fabric stores to pick out the perfect materials for their projects. So far, they have made pillows for Heidi’s home and are currently working on a book bag.
For Erma and Heidi, however, their time together is about more than just sewing. Heidi says that while she became a Befriender for a class project, it was “important for me to form a deep relationship with someone. Spending time together is about more than being in the same room. I want to have good conversations, not just watch TV.” Heidi must have found what she is looking for in their partnership, as the match is two years strong with no signs of slowing down.
Even though they are a small nonprofit, Befrienders isn’t slowing down either. They currently support 52 matches in the Gallatin Valley. Grant funds from the Bozeman Area Community Foundation help support operating expenses for Befrienders and have allowed them to host additional training for their volunteers. These trainings were held in conjunction with local senior care facilities and focused on more advanced topics for volunteers such as elder abuse or caretaking for folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This additional training and support, then, directly benefits matches like Erma and Heidi. Recently, Erma’s husband, Hap, was moved to the memory care wing of the senior care center where they live. Understanding more about Alzheimer’s and dementia helps Heidi support Erma more compassionately as well as support Hap when the three of them spend time together.
At any given time, between 3 and 12 seniors are waiting to be matched with a Befriender. If you are interested in giving your time, talents, or treasures to seniors in our community through Befrienders, please contact Befrienders Executive Director, Jessica Stillman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 406.522.8169. Among Befrienders volunteers the consensus is almost unanimous that the seniors they visit touch their lives more than they ever expected.