Sheryl Keeme, Neighbors Who Care Executive Director
When the July mercury hits 100+ degrees and hangs out there for days and days, even though we all know the drill, it still is a surprise to be smacked with the hot pizza oven air when we head outdoors. Restaurant seating lines are far shorter, people move more slowly, and we trade swimming pools for golf courses as one of our favorite spots to be.
While the rest of us are figuring out how to endure the relentless high temperatures, imagine what it must feel like to be a homebound senior. Alone. Unable to run errands and shopping. Often disabled by hearing loss, vision loss, or cognitive decline, these neighbors are independent enough to mostly care for their own immediate needs like bathing, moving about their homes, and feeding themselves. Yet, they need just a little bit of help to continue aging in place safely and with dignity.
That’s where Neighbors Who Care comes in. If you haven’t heard of us, we are a small nonprofit housed right here in Sun Lakes. The brainchild of a group of visionary volunteers back in the mid 90s, Neighbors Who Care was formed to assist people who chose to age in place in their own homes for as long as possible. Historically, people with enormous hearts believed it possible to work with neighbors to help other neighbors. In fact, the original name of our agency was Neighbors Helping Neighbors. And ever since, the benevolence and generosity of thousands of Sun Lakes, Chandler, and other east valley residents have helped people maintain dignity and safety by living at home with an occasional helping hand.
Yet, when NWC was born, Sun Lakes was less than 20 years old and the need, although growing, was considerably lighter than what we are seeing today. As the baby boomer era retirees age across the US, by a sheer increase in population in the age group of people born between 1946 and 1964, senior citizen numbers are growing.
In fact, by 2030, one in five Americans will be of retirement age (65).
How does will this trend impact Neighbors Who Care? It already is. Three times in 2023, we assessed and onboarded at least 50 new clients in one month. That is more than 12 new clients a week. And that happened for at least 12 weeks in 2023, or one quarter. On the other hand, though our staff and volunteers’ robust efforts to onboard new volunteers is among our main activities, the average weekly yield of new volunteers is fewer than three per week. It’s simple to understand the disparity.
Despite the pandemic, a level of disruption many of us had never seen before in our entire lives, NWC persevered. We continued to deliver over 10,000 meals per year, and our commitment to transporting elderly clients to their physician appointments remained unwavering. Though we may not have been able to deliver with the same speed and frequency as in pre-pandemic times, we adapted and found solutions to ensure our services were still provided to our aging neighbors.
June, July, and August often feels a lot like those days yet again. On a weekly basis, we have been forced to shut down client requests on specific days because the volume of requests exceeds the number of available volunteers.
We simply do not have the volunteer numbers to meet this volume of requests when many are vacationing, at home in the Midwest for the summer, or visiting family in other parts of the country. Each time I learn that shutting down requests was necessary, I worry about the client and whether they could reschedule their request and medical service. And worse, what the impact of that change will be.
I often write these pieces or speeches to reflect only the positive aspects of what it means to be a part of Neighbors Who Care. The benefits of volunteering. The power of purpose in volunteering. The “feels” one gets when helping someone and connecting personally with a client. The community you feel being part of a larger vision. Making your deposit so when the need comes for you someday, you know you’ll be helped. This time of year, though, our situation is more challenging if not dire, which calls for a more serious, more directed message: We need more help from our community.
If you have wondered about volunteering but have reservations, share them with us. The goodwill deposited on behalf of Neighbors Who Care can be seen nearly everywhere in our neighborhoods. It is not difficult to talk with someone who has either volunteered for us, received services from us during a period of need such as after a surgery, had a friend who worked with us, or has heard one of us speak at an event.
Debunking a Few Neighbors Who Care Volunteering Myths
Myth: I heard you have to drive really far, sometimes to Scottsdale as a transportation volunteer.
Truth: Our volunteers choose when, where, and how long they volunteer. Always. No pressure. No shame.
Myth: The liability for volunteering is risky. People sue volunteers all the time.
Truth: The good Samaritan law in Arizona is highly protective of volunteer agencies. Neighbors Who Care has a responsible process in place to protect our volunteers. Fortunately, for 30 years, our volunteers have been safely helping clients.
Myth: I am uneasy about being called for transportation requests.
Truth: Our transportation requests are also offered in an online portal where our volunteers may shop for requests so they can choose when, who, where, and how long they volunteer.
Can you help? Sign up to volunteer here!