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Pinkney: Lasting bonds change lives in Senior Respite Program

Community voice

Ann Pinkney
Ann Pinkney

There are more than 107,000 people, 12 percent of the population, over 65 years old in DuPage County, and that number is expected to double by 2030. Many need care, and family members often fulfill that role.

Caregiving for seniors can be challenging, as families strive to meet needs of their senior loved one along with general family and work obligations.

“There aren’t many resources for caregivers in DuPage,” says Jody Kanikula, In-Home Senior Respite coordinator at Metropolitan Family Services DuPage. “Many families struggle with the responsibilities.”

Enter Metropolitan’s In-Home Senior Respite Program, which helps to lighten the load for DuPage caregivers by providing volunteers who visit with seniors at the senior’s home and provide companionship.

Volunteers must be 18 years or older, take part in a phone and in-person interview, and complete a four-hour training. References and a criminal background check are required. Currently volunteers commit to volunteering six months, weekly, for three hours.

Care is taken to ensure matches are good for the senior, the caregiver family and the volunteer.

“It’s very important for the volunteer to understand the older person,” says Kanikula, who connects those who have similar interests and energy levels.

Activities vary, such as talking, watching movies, listening to music, going for walks, and arts and crafts.

The bonds developed between volunteers and caregiver families are unique. “This is a special program because of the relationships that are formed,” says Kanikula. “Volunteers are often surprised at the depth of the connections they make.”

In fact, some volunteers are former clients who were so impressed with their volunteers, they decided to volunteer themselves.

As many seniors’ lives draw to a close, they want to be at home with family.

“The program helps families struggling to keep loved ones at home until they die,” says Kanikula. “It’s an honorable mission.”

Along with the In-Home Senior Respite Program’s many qualitative benefits, the program also profits families and the community financially.

According to the 2011 Met Life Market Survey of Long Term Care, the average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home in the United States costs more than $81,000 annually. Family caregivers provide 80 percent of U.S. long-term care. If those caregivers were paid, it would cost $450 billion a year (Family Caregiver Alliance, November 2011). Since 2001, the In-Home Senior Respite has provided about 30,000 hours of respite care worth more than $520,000.

Currently the program has about 45 active volunteers and 50 client families, but “we are always looking for new volunteers,” Kanikula says.

Some changes will be made by summer 2014 to provide more flexible volunteer options while still fostering rich connections between volunteers and caregiver families.

To volunteer, contact Jody Kanikula at

Ann Pinkney is senior director of marketing and communications for Metropolitan Family Services

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