A new service in Union County could help senior citizens remain in their homes for longer.
Union County Neighbor to Neighbor will next month start a pilot program with a few members through St. John's Lutheran Church and is expected to launch in May in conjunction with the United Way's Community Care Day.
The neighbor-to-neighbor program is part of a national, nonprofit, grassroots effort that works to connect seniors with volunteers and services.
"There are a lot of benefits to the community," said Jim Cesa, vice chairman of the Union County Neighbor to Neighbor program and a board member of the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
The program will seek to match seniors with needed services from volunteers, provide activities and transportation, and offer services from approved businesses, possibly at a discount.
Cesa heard about the grassroots effort through his work with the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
"We started investigating and putting a plan together," he said, adding a survey of Union County seniors done last year showed the services provided by the neighbor to neighbor program were desired.
Membership into the program comes with a fee and Cesa said a small group will test the program before it is opened countywide.
"We're running a pilot program with St. John's Lutheran Church in March with 10 to 12 members along with volunteers to begin to provide services," he said. "The pilot is to debug everything that's in place."
While the new program will work out any kinks this spring, volunteer recruitment will also be ongoing.
"The whole scope of this service is what we're able to offer will only be limited by the talents and abilities that volunteers bring to our volunteer pool," said Linda Fisher, who is handling volunteers for the program.
"We'd like to offer things as diverse as yard maintenance and simple home things like changing lightbulbs. ... We'd also like to offer things like trouble shooting computer programs."
In similar programs throughout the country, transportation is the biggest need.
"Most of the requests are for transportation," Fisher said. " 'Take me somewhere' or 'pick something up for me.' "
Outside of that, however, Fisher said she foresees requests for help with correspondence, home companionship and things as simple as changing batteries in smoke detectors. But it could get as complicated as music lessons if someone has a need and a volunteer can provide.
"The idea is if you have a skill, talent or time and the willingness to share that, bring it to the pool," Fisher said.
All volunteers will go through a police background check and interview. Once approved, they'll be able to pick times and tasks they'd like to help with.
Volunteers must be 21 years old or older, but Fisher said groups, such as Boy Scouts, can contact Union County Neighbor to Neighbor, where they will be put in contact with a senior who needs help.
Once the volunteer pool gets large enough, Fisher said she hopes to pair volunteers with seniors from their neighborhood or nearby.
"When it grows I want to refine it even better to pair the client with a regular volunteer," she said.
Fisher, who has volunteer experience as executive director of Union County Guardianship Services, expects word-of-mouth to bring new volunteers in as current volunteers talk to friends about their experience.
"This isn't a huge step for our community because this is a community where people do care for their neighbors," she said.
"This is a way of formalizing and connecting people who might not have a network in place."
For more information about Union County Neighbor to Neighbor or to volunteer, look online at ucn2n.org.