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January 21, 2013

KISS program helps seniors stave off feelings of isolation

KISS program helps seniors stave off feelings of isolation

TRAVERSE CITY — Another contact point for seniors who are home alone during the day is just a KISS away.

Keeping Independent Seniors Safe, or KISS, pairs volunteers with an older person who becomes a phone friend. A phone call Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings can be a service that, coupled with other existing programs, extends independent living while providing social contact.

KISS is sponsored by the Volunteer Center at United Way of Northwest Michigan and the Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network.

The program is looking for volunteer callers and clients who would like to receive regular calls. As they spread the word through senior networks and agencies, organizers hope to hold the volunteer training and go live soon.

"These are seniors who are home alone and perhaps don't have any family or good friends nearby," said Susan McQuaid, director of the Volunteer Center at United Way of Northwest Michigan. "This can alleviate the fears of seniors and their families."

Phone calls made by volunteers will be done on their own phone and time. They can call clients from their home, office or car. It is a great outreach opportunity for other seniors, McQuaid noted; a questionnaire completed by volunteers and clients will help match mutual interests.

"I get so many calls from homebound seniors asking, 'What can I do?'" she said, noting this is an excellent volunteer opportunity, even for seniors who rarely get out.

Octogenarian Arlene Koons of Traverse City is far from homebound, and she's already a regular United Way volunteer. Koons plans to add KISS to her roster of activities.

"It's fun. It's a way of contributing," she said of her robust volunteer activities that netted her an office at United Way.

Exact parameters and training are still being developed, but KISS volunteers will connect with their clients strictly over the phone. They will not visit, bring meals, run errands or in any way help clients beyond thrice-weekly phone calls.

"We hope these phone calls increase seniors' sense of well-being," said McQuaid.

Keeping seniors in their home alleviates one great fear many have, while the program can create familiarity and benefit the individual and their family, and boost mental health.

KISS is another tool in the toolbox of services created to help seniors achieve that goal.

"People are just more relaxed at home," said Bob Schlueter, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging. "It's hugely important to people, most people if given a choice would stay in their homes versus moving anywhere else."

Keeping a client at home saves money, as opposed to assisted living, a nursing home or adult foster care.

"From a financial perspective, it's a lot less expensive for an individual to stay at home," said Schlueter.

The program will be a trial this year before organizers re-evaluate it. It is also a model that could be extended to include individuals with disabilities, who could serve as a volunteer or be a client.

For more information on the KISS program or to volunteer or be a client, call the United Way office at 947-3200 or visit www.unitedwaynwmi.org or www.volunteernwmi.org.

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