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The need for family caregivers is expanding rapidly as the population of older adults grows exponentially in MetroWest and throughout the nation. But the needs of those caregivers are also growing as they take on this vital but demanding role.

One local organization is looking to help, and has come up with an innovative approach to provide needed support to local family caregivers.

“We’re looking for people who need their support,” Jan Latorre-Stiller said in a recent interview with the Caregiving Chronicles blog in our Marlborough office. “We’re getting the word out, getting momentum, trying to get people to recognize the program as part of a solid approach to supporting caregivers.”

Latorre-Stiller is the Director of SOAR (Service Opportunities After Reaching) 55, a Newton-based organization that “mobilizes adults age 55 and over to contribute their skills and experience in meaningful volunteer activity that helps strengthen and expand the capacity of local nonprofit and public organizations.”

One of SOAR 55’s newest efforts in that mission is the development this year of its Caregiver Support Volunteer Program, which matches up trained volunteers with family caregivers to provide individual guidance and support.

“It’s a unique idea because it enlists peers who have had the same kind of experience for one-on-one support,” said Latorre-Stiller, whose program covers much of MetroWest, including Framingham, Natick, Sudbury, Wayland, Ashland and other surrounding towns. “They can giver suggestions based on that experience. One volunteer, who is caring for her mother who is living with her, said the best information she’s ever received has been from others going through the same thing. That’s what we try to provide.”

SOAR 55 had six volunteers complete its first training session earlier this year and all were matched up with individual caregivers. There are another six to eight volunteers scheduled to participate in the upcoming training that is expected to be completed by mid-late October. The new batch of volunteers will begin working with caregivers then.

Right now, Latorre-Stiller and Program Manager Debra Mozill are trying to get the word out about the program and reach more caregivers in need of support, both for this fall’s class of trained volunteers and for future volunteers.

Latorre-Stiller envisions keeping the training groups in that six to eight person range for the time being.

“We’re a small program,” Latorre-Stiller said. “We want to work with smaller groups at the outset.”

Once trained, the length of support offered by the volunteers is “open ended,” Latorre-Stiller said.

“We’re not sure if (the counseling) will be long term or short term,” she added. “It will depend on the person and what their needs are. If they connect, they can meet indefinitely. Others might be at a crossroad and just need someone to help them make a decision or get through a situation.”

The volunteers work with one caregiver at a time, and also meet monthly with a social worker to go over any issues and discuss the progress of program.

“It’s a wonderful community service that contributes to the support of overburdened caregivers in unique ways,” Latorre-Stiller said. “Trained peers offer support on a one-on-one basis for the length of time they need. That individual attention is appealing.”

The response from the caregivers working with the initial group of trained volunteers has been very positive. Latorre-Stiller knows the program can help overburdened and overwhelmed caregivers. The challenge is to get those caregivers to give it a chance.

“My sense is that some (caregivers) think, ‘This is going to take time I don’t have,’” Latorre-Stiller said. “But the benefits derived are very much worth it. And ultimately, with the help we can provide it can actually save them time.”

Latorre-Stiller added that the volunteers can go to the caregiver’s home to meet, so they do not have to leave their loved one or find someone else to care for them.

For more information about the Caregiver Support Volunteer Program, please contact Program Manager Debra Mozill at 617-969-5906 x190 or dmozill@soar55.org.

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