IN THE NEWS: Family service hiring companions to help seniors remain independent

Lois K. Solomon

Sun Sentinel

Jan 28, 2014

If you're a responsible and compassionate adult who is looking for work, there may be a job for you as a senior companion.

Companions are being hired by the Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Service, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. They earn $10 an hour as they assist the frail elderly with light housekeeping and getting to the grocery store or library.

Training for 30 future companions begins Thursday. After the training, each companion will work 10 to 20 hours a week, said Danielle Hartman, family service president.

One of the goals of the program is to keep aging seniors in their homes and stimulated for as long as possible instead of moving them into nursing homes, she said.

"For so many seniors who are not ready for a certified nursing assistant, this is the first step to acknowledging they need help," Hartman said. "They still want to live a full life. The companions help fill an emotional void."

The family service has about 850 frail elderly clients, most of whom live below poverty levels and need help buying food and paying rent.

Leonard Rand, 84, said he needs help carrying groceries. Two companions visit him each week.

"They're good company," said Rand, a retired Chrysler salesman. "They help me shop and bring my stuff in. The bags have become too bulky and heavy."

Companion Michael Pilchik, 50, said he spends about two hours a week with Rand, taking him to the bank, shopping or to the mall. Pilchik also helps Rand read his mail.

Pilchik, who works about 20 hours a week for three clients, said he was a full-time caregiver for his deceased mother, who had multiple serious health problems.

"After what I went through with my mother, nothing fazes me now," he said.

Marissa Gordon, who coordinates the program for the family service, said the program currently has about 15 companions and 45 clients. About 15 additional people now waiting will be matched with the new companions, she said. And she expects the need to increase dramatically in the coming years as Baby Boomers age.

A study last year found that boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, are living longer than people who born 20 years earlier, but are not as healthy, with numerous conditions that require assistance, such as arthritis, depression and diabetes.

"We have so much demand," Gordon said. "I get calls every day, at least three calls a day."

Companions must be patient, conscientious and good drivers, Gordon said. A professional background in caregiving or personal experience with it is helpful, she said.

Linda Teitzman, a Broward high school teacher and senior companion, said she loves taking her clients to malls, art shows and the beach. She said one couple, in their 90s, requests Saturday night dinners at Wendy's.

"It's the highlight of their week," Teitzman said. "I have a really good time with the seniors. They make me laugh."

For more information about companions, call Gordon at 561-558-2163.

Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) provides help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, vocational training, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information about JFS volunteer opportunities and services for seniors, contact 561-852-3333. Learn more at ruthralesjfs.org.

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