IN THE NEWS: Sun Sentinel Features Article about VISTA Volunteer at JFS

Lois K. Solomon

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Nov 3, 2014

AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program, is providing volunteers to Palm Beach County's Jewish social-welfare agencies to aid senior citizens who need stimulation and companionship.

In Boca Raton, a volunteer at Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services is coordinating social activities for Holocaust survivors, transferring paperwork to survivors' electronic files and developing a program for their dental care.

In West Palm Beach, Alpert Jewish Family and Children's Services has 50 volunteers, but needs 20 more. They get a monthly stipend and mileage reimbursement to provide assistance to frail seniors.

The volunteers come through AmeriCorps VISTA, the national service network designed to fight poverty.

President John F. Kennedy founded VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, in 1965, while President Bill Clinton signed legislation creating AmeriCorps in 1993 as a volunteer program for 18 to 25 year olds to earn educational vouchers for college.

Natasha Torres, 21, volunteers at Rales through VISTA. A recent graduate of Florida International University, she said she was looking for a job to complement her sociology major when she found the VISTA website and learned about its Holocaust assistance programs.

"I've always been interested in the Holocaust," she said. "It's my personal passion."

Torres said she gets a small living allowance and will be able to choose an educational award when her VISTA year ends at Rales next summer.

Twelve years ago, seeing the abundance of Baby Boomers about to retire, AmeriCorps created Legacy Corps for volunteers older than 55. They also get educational vouchers, which can be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

The Alpert family service has expanded its Legacy Corps program from 46 positions to 70, said Nancy Frent, program director. She said the agency still needs 20 volunteers to provide companionship to aging seniors; about one-fourth of clients are Holocaust survivors.

"We were looking for something to do to be useful," said volunteer Janet Klein, 69, of Boynton Beach, whose husband, Fred, also volunteers. The Kleins spend time with two clients a week and visit an independent living facility to play games and organize parties for the residents.

"We have such a nice time together," said Klein, who has volunteered for three years. "The ladies I see are a lot of fun and have such interesting histories."

The companions earn a stipend of $211 a month and 51 cents a mile. They are matched with a senior who lives alone or whose caregiver needs a break. They work 450 hours a year and need to be available 2-1/2 days a week to see clients.

"Everyone benefits," Frent said. "They provide increased socialization for the client, respite for the caregiver and a needed service in the community."

Training for the new batch of volunteers begins Nov. 10. For more information, call Frent at 561-684-1991.

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