(August 30, 2016) – If you’re finding that you might need a little extra support traveling to medical appointments, grocery shopping, running errands or getting the bills paid and in the mailbox, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota may have a solution. Neighbor to Neighbor Companions is a new option that can make life easier and more manageable. As trained advocates and friendly visitors, they provide support specifically tailored to the needs of older adults.

The new service, being launched by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, is patterned after the Senior Companion Program that has been around for over 40 years in Minnesota. Its goal is to promote health and independence – particularly for adults over the age of 55. With rapidly aging communities, particularly in rural Minnesota, Neighbor to Neighbor Companions allows these services to become more widely available.

The initiative is part of a national pilot project through a collaboration with Lutheran Services in America. The goal is to test proven service models in news ways to improve lives for a rapidly aging population, especially in rural communities. Neighbor to Neighbor Companions is expected to be replicated in other parts of the country through nonprofit organizations like Lutheran Social Service.

“It’s a wildly successful idea that has been around for decades to meet the everyday needs of aging Minnesotans who want to maintain their highest level of independence and continue to make valuable contributions to older adults as they age,” explained Mark Cullen, a senior director in Older Adult Services for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. “We’re excited to build on this service that has a proven track record and make it available to everyone who needs it.”

Every day, 10,000 people reach the age of 65. Currently, individuals who are 65 years or older represent 14.5% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That number is expected to grow to 21.7% of the population by 2040.

Cullen said that this service is especially needed in rural areas where services for older adults vary significantly and are scarce in some communities. Informal caregivers, especially for older adults without family support nearby, will be vital to a growing number of older adults who need helping with daily living tasks to live full and independent lives. Services like these are also expected to alleviate budget challenges for the Minnesota Department of Human Services whose spending on older adults support is projected to grow substantially in the future.

Companions serve as friendly visitors each week and offer specific support needed by older adults that may include transportation to appointments, grocery shopping, errands or simple household tasks. They can also serve as an important social connection by being a companion for lunch or providing a safety check on more isolated older adults.

Companions are carefully selected and matched with older adults. Each companion receives a background check, training, and a motor vehicle records check. Matches also aim to bring together shared interests between companions and older adults. The volunteers are managed by LSS staff.

Lutheran Social Service is currently taking applications for companions who want to make a valuable contribution to the lives of their neighbors. “Our companions and the people they visit often become friends and it’s a win for everyone involved,” Cullen said.

Whether you are interested in receiving a Neighbor to Neighbor Companion or would like to learn more about becoming a companion, you can learn more by calling 877.540.9443 or emailing neighbortoneighbor@lssmn.org  

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota began in 1865 when a Lutheran pastor and his congregation opened an orphanage for children near Red Wing in southeastern Minnesota. Today, with 2,300 employees and 8,000 volunteers, Lutheran Social Service helps one in 65 Minnesotans through services that inspire hope, change lives and build community. Statewide, the organization seeks to foster safe and supportive homes for children, restore health and wellness in families, empower people with disabilities to live the lives they imagine, and promote health, independence and quality of life for older adults. For comprehensive information about the work of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, visit www.lssmn.org