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A friend a day keeps the doctor away

Companion-matching service creates circle of friendship at Springfield community

Created date

February 26th, 2013

C.S. Lewis once remarked, Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one. No truer words were ever spoken for those linked together by Great Connections, a confidential, companion-matching service offered by the community members at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va. Great Connections facilitates companionship and friendship for all of our Greenspring residents, says Betsy Boyle, RN, CCM, and Erickson Advantage care coordinator. A warm introduction to any person or group always makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. At Greenspring, we have community member Mary Jane Swaney to thank for the inspiration for this wonderful program.

Extending a hand in friendship

Five years ago, Mary Jane moved to Greenspring from Tennessee. I am not an outgoing person, she says. I m rather shy. But one day, I was at an appointment in the medical center, and my doctor asked if I would go and spend some time with one of my 95-year-old neighbors. This person needed someone to talk to and to spend time with. I agreed, and it turned out to be a miracle for me. My neighbor welcomed me like I had never been welcomed before, Mary Jane adds. We talked from the moment I knocked on the door until the moment I left. I visited her all the time. We discussed everything. She shared with me things she didn t even share with her family. I thought to myself, Wouldn t it be nice if everyone could enjoy a friendship like this? And that s how Great Connections began. Mary Jane held an informational meeting asking for volunteers to spend some time visiting neighbors who were homebound and lonely. She quickly had 15 volunteers ready to help. My neighbors at Greenspring are wonderful people, says Mary Jane. Most are outgoing and very friendly. But it took my own great connection for me to realize that some people are overwhelmed by their circumstances. You can make a huge difference in someone s life just by being present and listening. Experts agree. In 2010, the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatrypublished a report on older adults perspectives on successful aging. Respondents attributed successful aging to quality of life. Many older adults noted that a feeling that somebody cares played an important role in this sense of well-being.

Reaching out

Each connection made through Great Connections is completely private and confidential. Greenspring Volunteer Programs Coordinator Elke Martin worked with Mary Jane from the group s onset. She instructed all the volunteers on the significance of complete confidentiality for visiting someone in their home. Great Connections is a fabulous group intended to bring companionship, says Elke. The beautiful side-effect as always with a good volunteer match is that the visitor also gets companionship and purpose out of this arrangement. Each person we visit with is different, and every situation is unique, says Mary Jane. As volunteers, we share issues and help each other out in whatever ways we can. We too have become closer friends.

Expanding boundaries

In fact, the immediate success of Great Connections left Mary Jane re-evaluating the group s outreach efforts. People began calling me all the time requesting not only a visit from a friend but companionship for club meetings, programs, and meals, she says. They feel uncomfortable doing these things alone and hoped that our group could help. Less than six months after Great Connections began, volunteers expanded their role, reaching out to more neighbors and expanding the circle of friendship. In addition to accompanying their neighbors to events, the group began forming groups to dine together. We are always thinking of new and different ways to make people feel welcomed, says Mary Jane. Our dinners have been very well attended. It amazes me how much you get to know someone over a two-hour dinner. In the eight short months since Great Connections began, the group has helped numerous people feel connected to their neighbors. Great Connections is a wonderful gift that our residents give one another, says Boyle. They are all peers who understand and are empathetic to the challenges and joys each has faced over the course of their lifetimes. You d be amazed how much time spent with a caring person means to people, says Mary Jane. I feel I owe so much to that first great connection. It was very good for me. I hope our group can even inspire other Erickson Living communities to try something similar.