Before the pandemic, Joyce Driben, a retired social worker, relied on her senior companion through AgeWell Pittsburgh’s Rides and Visits program to get through her routine, day-to-day business.
“One of the things she helped me with is going through the mail — sometimes, writing a check,” said Driben, a Squirrel Hill resident who was born blind. “She’s also helped get stains out of clothing. I don’t know if there’s a stain there!”
Luckily for Driben and others like her, the AgeWell program — a collaboration of the Jewish Association on Aging, the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh and JFCS Pittsburgh that assists older adults and their caregivers in maintaining a healthy and independent life — is restarting this spring after its pandemic hiatus.
Almost 90% of older adults in America choose to “age in place,” in their homes and neighborhoods, according to JFCS officials. Programs like AgeWell Pittsburgh provide key services to help seniors live independently and avoid isolation, which is especially important as COVID restrictions ease and more people are leaving their homes regularly. In addition to a helpline to answer questions and make referrals to resources, the program relies on volunteers to provide seniors with transportation options, companionship and support.
This free service is available for people over 60 who do not drive and who live in the Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Shadyside neighborhoods. Seniors host the volunteer visitors in their homes once a month.
Aimee Haldeman, the new older adult care coordinator for JFCS, said the relaunch means a great deal for the community.
“We’re excited to be able to provide these programs for our community’s seniors again,” Haldeman said in a prepared statement. “With COVID, many older adults faced extreme social isolation, especially with concerns over health risks. Now that we can safely provide AgeWell Rides and Visits again, we can ensure that all those in our community who are choosing to age in place can feel supported and access the services they need.”
Driben feels that support. Something as small as a ride can be immensely helpful — and immensely meaningful, she said.
“Sometimes, it was [a ride] to the dentist, not my favorite trip but necessary,” Driben quipped. “Sometimes it’s to the hairdresser — that was more fun.”
Now that the AgeWell Pittsburgh program is relaunching, the organizations behind it are seeking new volunteers. They’re looking for drivers for the AgeWell Rides program, as well as families, students or any other individuals interested in supporting older adults for the AgeWell Visits program.
Volunteer Marcy Kronzek heard about the program in 2015 through a listing on Temple Sinai’s website.
“It sounded like something I wanted to do,” said Kronzek, who also lives in Squirrel Hill.
Kronzek enjoyed spending some extra time in her Subarus — an Outback and a Crosstrack — with people who valued her and her time. Plus, the ride was always nice.
“People say the Outback is easy to get in and out of,” she laughed.
For Kronzek, the process was far from earthshaking.
“A couple people went to the beauty salon,” she said. “One woman, I used to take to the JCC for exercise classes.”
Just giving someone a lift can add a lot to a life.
“I thought driving people was something that was needed,” Kronzek said.
For more information, call 412-422-0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.