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Utah County program provides creative care to senior community during pandemic

Posted at 6:32 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 20:32:49-04

PROVO, Utah — Though caring for senior citizens has proved to be one of the greatest challenges in the pandemic, one Utah group used a little creativity to make it so they could stay connected.

The Utah and Wasatch County Senior Companion Program provides for seniors who have no one to take them to their appointments.

Victoria Chelossi-Royeton, the program coordinator said they focus on helping low-income seniors.

“We provide companionship, friendship and transportation,” said Chelossi-Royeton.

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Lola Farnsworth is one of the 175 seniors cared for through the program—she’s about to turn 90 in June.

“We’re actually going to celebrate it in July because that’s when everyone can come,” said Farnsworth.

It’s a party that wasn’t even a possibility during the pandemic last year, a time that was very lonely for Farnsworth.

“Some days I would go all day long without hearing the phone ring or having another human being to talk to,” said Farnsworth.

Volunteers with the Utah County program had to stop their weekly visits and ended up not seeing their senior clients for three months.

“We have clients who had nobody,” said Chelossi-Royeton.

Senior Companion Volunteer Lynn Gates said they helped clients get to much needed appointments and were used to spending three to four hours with each senior.

“We couldn’t see our clients for three months and boy, did I get depressed,” said Gates.

Kenneth Kauwe, a senior companion volunteer who’s been with the Utah County program for more than twelve years, said he’s written post cards and letters to his senior clients.

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Every week, Kauwe said he would spend hours on the phone with the seniors.

“It didn’t matter to me if I heard the same story a dozen times or more, it was their time,” said Kauwe. “It was their time to get somebody to listen to them and I was glad to do it.”

Kauwe knows his senior’s stories by heart and Gates echoed the sentiment, saying she developed permanent friendships.

“We want every minute that we can have together,” said Gates.

When Chelossi-Royeton realized the pandemic would be prolonged and that these relationships were critical to maintain, she came up with the “shower curtain.”

Chelossi-Royeton said they installed a plastic sheet of fabric in every car, separating the driver from the passenger. They also sanitized the car and wore masks as an extra precaution — all said it was worth it to be back together again.

“It gives me a chance to actually get out of the home for a little bit,” said Terry Christiansen, a senior who is new to being a client in the program, but someone who once was a volunteer.

Christiansen said he loves the services because they are free of charge and he’s able to go pick up lunch for he and his wife to share.

“I feel more comfortable being out with people and it’s good,” said Christiansen.

Farnsworth agreed saying her life has become more “normal and calmed down,” because of the weekly visits.

Currently, the program has 35 volunteers.

As of the past few weeks, the “shower curtain” invented during the pandemic has been removed and seniors can sit in the front seat with their companions, as long as they’re wearing masks.