Friendly Visitor Programs

September 17, 2014

Many UMC congregations have found that Friendly Visitor Programs can be vital components of successful older adult ministries. They not only help seniors remain socially connected, less isolated,  and engaged with their communities, but also provide a rewarding means for younger adults (many of whom are aged 50+) to benefit from the experiences and wisdom of the older adults they call or visit.
Some churches within the Conference have developed Friendly Visitor Programs, while others are in the process of getting them started.  If you’re interested in creating a Friendly Visitor Program, following are a few things to consider before putting a plan into action:
1.       Find a coordinator
          A Friendly Visitor Programs works best with a dedicated, caring individual to recruit, train, and support the volunteers; to find out which older adults might want to be matched with visitors; to monitor the program; and to act as a liaison for the participants and the broader congregation. The coordinator also needs to be a “matchmaker,” able to pair up individuals with compatible interests or experiences, so that the relationships can be potentially long-lasting and rewarding.
2.       Define the program
          Friendly Visitor Programs are as varied as the individuals involved with them. Some issues to consider:
* Will the program be telephone support or in-person visiting between the volunteer and his or her “friend?”
* How often will the visits or calls take place and for how long?
* Will the volunteer be driving his or her friend to shopping, appointments, outings, etc., or will all visiting be done at the friend’s residence?
* Will the volunteer assist his or her friend with any household chores? (Note: Volunteers should never provide any financial or money management assistance.)
* Are there topics that the volunteer should avoid or confidentiality issues involved when visiting?
* Will the program be only for seniors within the congregation or will it provide volunteers for older adults in the broader community?
3.       Create a community
          Once the program is started, it is helpful to keep everyone connected and supported. The Friendly Visitor Program coordinator should be available to answer questions and periodically check in with each volunteer visitor and friend to ensure all is going well. Volunteer meetings and volunteer/friend social events are also often valuable, especially if the volunteers and their friends can help plan them.  Friendly Visitor Programs can also be a great source for providing community resource information to older adults and their families.
These are just some ideas to consider for starting a Friendly Visitor Program -- the information is far from complete.  There is much more information on the Internet, including suggestions from UMC congregations, AARP, and other organizations and agencies throughout the US.
Jackie Finley
Coordinator – Churches as Models Project, 2014