Making a difference in your retirement

Retirees are encouraged to attend Senior Peer Counsellors training beginning Sept 21 to help local seniors in need of a friend.

Dolores Weston and Joan Sheanh have been matched through the Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors program. The fall training program begins Sept. 21

Dolores Weston and Joan Sheanh have been matched through the Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors program. The fall training program begins Sept. 21

“The secret to retirement is that you retire to something,” said Bob Saucier, administrator at Chilliwack Senior Peer Counsellors.

Senior Peer Counselling (SPC) provides volunteers with a sense of purpose that they may feel is lacking in their retirement.

The free, one-on-one SPC service pairs referred senior clients who may be lonely or isolated with a volunteer friend who provides emotional support through listening, empathy and guidance.

The program is currently recruiting volunteers for their fall training session.

Chilliwack SPC, one of 33 peer support groups in B.C. has been operating since 2000. Irene Lawrin, President and long-time volunteer with Chilliwack SPC, explained that “the format has stayed largely the same since it started: we’re there for seniors.”

Volunteer-client pair Joan Sheanh and Dolores Weston have been matched since 2012, and they demonstrate just how important this program is to local seniors.

Like many SPC clients, Dolores lost her spouse after a long, happy marriage. As the rest of her family resides in Ontario, it was important for her to find someone local to connect with.

Joan, a retired teacher from Prince George, signed up for the training in effort to meet others and do something meaningful in her retirement. It didn’t take long for Joan to find her compatible match in Dolores.

The training course for the SPC program takes six-weeks, meeting twice per week. Throughout the training, volunteers will gain extensive knowledge that allows them to effectively listen and engage with their senior buddy.

“We tackle different subjects each week,” Saucier explained. Volunteers are prepared to communicate with seniors who may have particular health concerns, like Alzheimer’s. They are trained to empathize with grief, promote active ageing, and set constructive goals.

By becoming more informed than your average friend, the volunteers can direct their senior to additional support if they recognize a pressing issue, such as elder abuse.

Retired seniors are best suited to volunteer for the SPC program, as they bring “a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom from many different areas of expertise,” said Christine Schmidtke, SPC administrator.

“We have volunteers who are retired nurses, accountants, social workers, you name it,” each of whom provides a unique set of skills which may be compatible with a specific client.

Joan and Dolores get together once per week for lunch and shopping. “We always go to McDonalds,” Dolores laughs, “we can’t help it.”

No matter what they do, they cherish their time together, “we clicked right from the beginning. I’m over the moon to have met her,” Dolores enthused.

“It’s great to feel that you’re helping someone,” Joan added, whether that means lending an ear or accompanying them to the grocery store.

“The volunteers are looking after the emotional needs of these people in a way that, often, no one else is,” Saucier pointed out.

If you’re retired, looking for a sense of fulfillment, and wanting to give back to your community, sign-up for the free SPC training program.

“Right now, we’re so desperate for volunteers that we have a waiting list of clients,” Schmidtke stresses.

SPC even facilitates “phoner volunteers” who call clients to chat and check-in, if they’re unable to volunteer in-person.

The fun and informative training, taught by Helene Long, takes place at the Chilliwack Senior Peers office at 45938 Wellington, beginning September 21 at 9 a.m..

Those who are interested in volunteering can learn more at chilliwackseniorpeercounsellors.org and reserve a spot by calling 604-793-7204.