Seniors find meaning helping other seniors
The sheer number of people now enjoying or nearing retirement has never been higher, thanks to the post-World War II baby boom. This burgeoning number of adults traveling through their late 50s, 60s and early 70s is prompting the establishment of a smorgasbord of elder-care options.
One of those options is the "Seniors Helping Seniors" franchise, begun in 2004 and based in Pennsylvania. It is an in-home senior care service that has team members who provide nonmedical assistance to ensure seniors' safety, reduce their loneliness and encourage independent living.
The majority of its caregivers are also seniors (or at least over 40).
The Chicago area has four such franchises, one of which is based in the Fox Valley. It is run by Navy retiree Capt. Caroline Olinger, a native of the area who returned to Batavia in 2013 after a long and distinguished Naval career, which included a stint as chief of staff at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station near North Chicago.
When she retired and returned to the Fox Valley, Olinger sought a new use for her considerable skills and also wanted to honor the legacy of her deceased parents, Mary and Floyd Carlson, who were longtime teachers in St. Charles and Batavia.
She always believed in the philosophy of giving back to and helping those in need. So when her husband, Scott (a Marine veteran), brought home a flier on Seniors Helping Seniors he found in an airline magazine, she became intrigued and investigated the opportunity.
The peer-to-peer, nonmedical model of Seniors Helping Seniors immediately appealed to Olinger as a way to give back to the community while providing a "win-win" for all of the seniors involved in each caregiving relationship. So she went through the training and got a required license from the state in April, 2015.
"I saw this as a great way to use the skills I had learned in the Navy to bring a high quality of life to those who choose to age in place instead of going into a senior community," she explained.
After receiving her license, Olinger began recruiting compassionate, loving male and female senior caregivers by placing advertisements in church bulletins and speaking at local Rotary Clubs, American Legions, VFWs and other organizations.
Once she had a group of appropriate caregivers, she began seeking clients through senior services agencies in Elgin and Aurora, orthopedic physicians' offices, rehabilitation clinics and many other outlets, getting her agency known in the right places. "The demand is undoubtedly there. People just need to budget for it and learn to accept the help," Olinger said.
"Seniors Helping Seniors is a unique option and we offer it to the families of Kane County and a small part of DuPage County," she continued. "We offer nonmedical caregivers who can come into your home on a regular basis for as little as two hours to offer family members a break to play bridge or tennis or just go to the grocery store. And we can also offer caregivers for much longer periods of time, up to full-time, depending on what the family needs.
"When the family caregiver goes down, everything hits the fan so it is very important that you give yourself a regular break if you are caring for a loved one in your home," Olinger added.
As far as the caregivers go, Olinger works to honor their schedules and requests for time off to enjoy their own families and friends, and the opportunity to travel. Most work between two and 10 hours a week. Because of this attitude, they have had very low turnover. The caregivers see Seniors Helping Seniors as a way to supplement their incomes and help both other seniors and their struggling families.
Services offered include, but are not limited to, companionship, personal care (like bathing and showering), medication reminders, light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation to appointments, daily organization, well-being checks/reports to the family, handyman chores, pet support (going along when elderly owner walks pet, as well as providing pet with food and water, as needed), assistance with iPads/cellphones and respite care.
"I have very talented and loving senior caregivers," Olinger said. "I have a wonderful pianist, two woodworkers, great cooks, retired teachers and nurses and even an active Senior League baseball player. They are all truly inspirational people who simply want to stay active and help others.
"I love my new mission," she continued. "It is lots of work but it is very rewarding and is truly a labor of love for me.
"If we get into a situation which is beyond our abilities, I have no problem connecting a family with another agency that can better meet their needs. I am not a hard-core competitor. As a Naval officer, I believe in the philosophy of 'any port in a storm,' " Olinger chuckled.
"In fact, we have had clients who have eventually gone into a full-time care facility and their families have paid our caregivers to visit them in their new 'home' for a few hours a week because they wanted to maintain that close personal relationship with their former Seniors Helping Seniors caregiver."
For more information, call (630) 937-4246 or visit www.seniorshelpingseniors.com/foxvalley.