For folks residing in nursing or retirement homes, the days can be long and lonely. Fortunately there is an organization whose mission is to match volunteers with residents to visit one on one.
Marilyn Soderquist, Program Director for Friend to Friend, said that many seniors residing in facilities have their physical needs taken care of, but what they lack is a friend.  Friend to Friend started in 1974 in Des Moines, WA. They now serve King, Kitsap, Snohomish, Pierce and Thurston counties.Friend to Friend draws their volunteers from a variety of areas said Soderquist, such as reading about Friend to Friend on the internet, in the newspaper or word of mouth.
“We ask for two references for every person who volunteers and they are all subject to background checks,” said Soderquist.
Some residents prefer their visits to take place within the facility, while others enjoy an afternoon out for coffee or to shop.  “One resident in Bellevue asked to go to a tavern for oysters and beer,” said Soderquist.
Volunteers take the residents to do things they might not otherwise be able to do.  “Right now, many are planting gardens in their own flower boxes. Some watch ballgames together,” she said.
Connie Benjamin began volunteering with Friend to Friend five years ago and finds the experience, “Absolutely wonderful.”  The lady she volunteered with was named Dottie.
“We saw each other every week and we had a wonderful rapport and when her health failed and she moved to another facility, I followed her there,” said Benjamin.
Dottie has since passed away at age 95, but Benjamin said, “It was good to share my life with her. We shared all of our adventures.”  Benjamin said she learned all about Dottie’s past. “We were almost like family,” she said.
Soderquist said the program is unique. “It is the only program that does this work in five counties. Every facility can meet the physical needs of the residents and they do a good job, but there is no way they can reach the emotional needs of every resident.”
Volunteers visit at least twice a month at their convenience for one year and the visits benefit the volunteers, residents and the staff who care for them Soderquist said, adding, “We went to a volunteer appreciation the other night and one of the volunteers who had been visiting her friend for six years said it was the most rewarding thing she had ever done.”
To learn more about Friend to Friend contact Marilyn Soderquist at (206) 870-4266.

John Mikel, Program Specialist for Pierce County Community Connections Aging and Disability Resources (ADR), says that their Advisory Board is looking for new members to serve as advocates for clients and to advise ADR of the senior and disabled population in Pierce County.

“In the past we did not necessarily recruit for a targeted demographic, but now we are,” said Mikel, who added they are looking for representatives who are seniors and adults with disabilities to serve on the board.  They are also hoping to include more young adults with disabilities in order to balance out their membership.

“A board of this nature definitely has more female members than male members and we would like to have more males as representatives,” said Mikel.

Maggie Sweasy has been a board member since 2003 and says her time on the board has given her an opportunity to lend a voice to aging or disabled individuals in her community.

When she visits Olympia she attempts to educate members of the legislature on what is important to clients and acts as their advocate.

Sweasy said another piece of her board commitment is to call folks who are receiving services such as having housework done or being driven to doctors, to be sure those services are being supplied as they were contracted.

Making sure senior nutrition programs are complying with their contracts to provide a safe and healthy meal is an important piece of Sweasy’s job. “Sometimes this is the only hot meal an elderly person might get that day so we make sure they are complying with that need,” she said.

Sweasy enjoys being an advocate.  “It is very fulfilling because above and beyond the monitoring, there is also the interaction in the legislative process,” said Sweasy who added board members also are visible at health fairs and always have a booth at the Puyallup Fair to educate others on the needs of aging and disabled populations as well as providing access to available resources.

“The board is the eyes and ears of Aging and Disability Resources and also advises on any matter that would be pertinent to the populations that we serve,” said Mikel.  “We are grateful that our board exists, as well as for the work they perform.”

Board members serve a four-year commitment and are able to serve a total of eight years. Board members are not paid, but they are reimbursed for mileage.

“It is a huge commitment of time and energy for the board,” said Mikel, adding that after the four-year term, 90 percent of board members opt for a second term.

He sees serving on the board as a way of giving back to the community.   “They are shining examples of what can be done if you have a cooperative relationship between the government and the people they serve,” he said.

Board members are involved on a monthly basis and volunteer anywhere from a minimum of three to fifteen hours or more per month. Anyone interested in serving on the board can contact Mikel at (253) 798-2823 or e-mail him at or contact Mickie Brown at (253) 798-7376 or e-mail her at

From left to right: Kate Quebe, Priscilla Baker, Gordy Johnson, Louise Batchelor, Phil Dawson, Jim Hansen, and Chuck Durant begin work on a phone reassurance program for members of the Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center. Photo by Joan Cronk

Kate Quebe, Director of Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center, worries about all the seniors who frequent the Center on a regular basis.

Not long ago, a member of their group failed to show up when expected and further checking found that he was in need of immediate medical assistance.
This got Quebe thinking about setting up some sort of a program where people who live alone could check on each other on a regular basis to be sure they are either up and moving in the morning, or at home safe at night.  Quebe had several local options to emulate.

The University Place Police Department has a system that operates Monday through Friday and Dorothy Gannon, volunteer coordinator for the telephone reassurance program, said their program works pretty well.

Gannon said that people who participate in the program fill out a form with Pierce County Aging and Long Term Care and are evaluated for any other needs they may have before being given a slot in the telephone reassurance program.

Gannon likes the program that is run through Pierce County Aging and Long Term Care and explained, “Because clients are interviewed by a social worker they often find they need more help than just a phone call, and that agency has those resources available to them.”

However, the University Place model operates on a five-day a week schedule. Quebe knew she wanted something in place that worked on a seven-day basis.

A commercial option for folks living alone is the Lifeline program.  Mercy’s Lifeline system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with a one-time installation fee of $80 and a monthly fee of $42.

As great as this program sounds, the cost can be a factor for folks living on a fixed income.

Quebe thought that her group at Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center could set up their own system which would have many of the options of the other programs but have no cost, work on a daily basis all year round and would appeal to low income seniors.

“We are thinking of doing a very limited phone tree where people in the program would be assigned in groups of three and call each other at a specified time,” said Quebe.

Each group, said Quebe, would decide for themselves which time of day for making the calls would work best.

With these thoughts in mind, Quebe set up an exploratory meeting at the Center.

A small group showed up to discuss how to set up the phone system and each person brought some great ideas to the table.

Priscilla Baker, who is 87 years old, said she lives alone and will be fine as long as “my health doesn’t fail.”

Jim Hansen said he also lived alone and wanted to discuss resources and options.  “I want to stay independent,” he added.

Chuck Dawson said he lived alone and was interested in preventative measures and putting things in place to prevent future obstacles. “If I need help,” he said, “I need it now.”

Louise Batchelor suggested getting a locksmith on board to volunteer some services in case the police had to be called to do a safety check.

Everyone present was willing to volunteer and felt the system they were hoping to set up should operate on a seven-day a week schedule. All they needed was a plan, phones and a willingness to participate.

When Quebe brought up the idea of the three-person phone tree, everyone agreed that smaller groups of volunteers would work best.

A steering committee was formed and the next meeting scheduled.

It won’t be long before the Pt. Defiance-Ruston Senior Center has their own telephone reassurance program in place and will begin checking on each other on a daily basis to be sure everyone stays safe.

“This program sounds simplified,” said Dawson.  “It would work.”

Phoenix House operates a program called Dressed for Success where individuals can go to get professional clothing articles.
Phoenix Housing Network Dressed for Success area of professional clothing. Photos by Joan Cronk

For homeless families, there is no better place than Phoenix Housing Network (PHN). This group works hard on a daily basis to help homeless families stay off the street and find permanent or temporary housing.

Joy McDonald, Shelter Case Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for PHN said their shelter program utilizes a network of 27 churches and faith-based schools who volunteer to shelter families overnight.

“Each host site prepares an evening meal and brings it in,” she said, adding that they also provide crafts for the kids and one or two folks volunteer to spend the night with families.

“We have over 2,000 volunteers that work during the course of the year,” said McDonald, who added a large percentage of those volunteers are senior citizens.

Each church participates from one to two weeks out of the year and house approximately five families at a time.

Eighty-one year old Franko Fountaine, coordinator for Fircrest United Methodist Church, said his host site sees anywhere from four to five families twice a year.

Fountaine said his work with the group is always rewarding.  “I get the satisfaction of helping the community,” said Fountaine. “I grew up during the depression and my folks were on welfare. I know what it is like to go through tough times.”

He said some of the families were sleeping in their cars before they came to PHN.

Fircrest United Methodist Church offers a great area for families.

The large basement affords a private space for each family to set up for the night. The dining area has large round tables with lots of chairs, and the church community provides a hot meal and a breakfast.

McDonald explained that PHN is a transitional housing program and offer a number of services, shelter being only one.

McDonald said that each family has a case manager and is provided with services tailored to their specific needs.
PHN relies heavily on their volunteers.

The Day Center located at PHN offices at 7050 South G Street in Tacoma offers clients a place to do their laundry, cook meals, relax with their families and make phone calls.

“We provide services that allow families at the end of a two year period to stand on their own,” said McDonald.

One of those services is their Suited for Success program, which consists of a three-hour workshop and a choice of business clothing from their Clothing Boutique, which is stocked with professional clothing for all sizes.

The large, bright area offers dressing rooms along one wall and clean and pressed clothing displayed just like in the Malls.

Classes are given in drawing up a resume and beefing up one’s interview skills. Professional clothing donations are always needed.

Other classes offered include money management, domestic violence, women’s health issues, life skills, parenting, legal advocacy and fair housing.

Alan Brown, Director of PHN said, “Our objective is to get families housed. We work with 80 units of transitional and permanent housing in Pierce County.”
McDonald said PHN started out about 15 years ago and housed two or three families in local churches.

“That has grown into case management and now we serve over 100 families in housing in a year,” she said. “We could do more if we had more.”
She added PHN is always in need of clothing and hygiene donations and volunteers.

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can contact Joy McDonald at (253) 471-5340.