CICOA offers phone reassurance to homebound seniors thanks to AmeriCorps

POSTED: September 19, 2017

CICOA’s Meals & More staff is getting a helping hand thanks to two AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America), who are working to develop and implement a sustainable telephone reassurance service to homebound seniors.

It’s the first time CICOA has utilized AmeriCorps volunteers, but Lisa Schneekloth, director of  Meals & More, already sees the benefits.

Both Stasy Cesar, who recently earned her master’s degree in public health in New Jersey, and Mackenzie Dafferner, who has a degree in health science, said it was just the kind of experience they were seeking.

Together, they are calling more than 1,000 homebound seniors who receive meals through Meals & More or who have received meals in the past. They’re asking each person if they would like to receive regular check-in calls from a CICOA volunteer. The volunteer not only makes sure the senior is doing well, but also provides an extra touch point to help alleviate the isolation and loneliness that so many homebound seniors face.

Schneekloth saw the need for a sustainable phone reassurance program last year after Meals & More transitioned from daily delivery of hot meals to a more sustainable, bi-weekly delivery of frozen fresh meals. While seniors continue to receive nutritious meals, they no longer receive the daily visits, which have been a valued part of the service for decades. Schneekloth wanted to fill that gap with a telephone reassurance program.

Schneekloth sought applicants through the IndyHunger Network, which annually sponsors AmeriCorps VISTAs to support the organization’s fight against hunger in the Greater Indianapolis area.

Dafferner and Cesar are recruiting volunteers at local senior centers to make the phone calls, which could be daily or weekly, depending on the senior’s preference.

The AmeriCorps volunteers also are collecting information from homebound seniors about loneliness, and they’ll do follow-up surveys to measure the effectiveness of regular phone calls on reducing loneliness. Dafferner and Cesar also will work with CICOA dietitian Tiffany Cox on other public programs, such as providing farmers markets vouchers for qualifying seniors.

Both volunteers began the year-long assignments in July. Not only is their work helping CICOA and its clients, but they also are gaining valuable experience. Cesar, who originally is from Haiti, said her goal is to work in public health and nonprofit. Dafferner, from Southern California, wants to work with seniors and people with disabilities. She knew from her studies at Northeastern University that Indianapolis does not rank well nationally when it comes to food insecurity. She’s hoping the work she’s doing can help make a difference.

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