Going above and beyond to serve clients—that’s what 77-year-old Sandy Tyler is all about. A Senior Companion volunteer for the past 13 years, Sandy helps clients to navigate in the home, fixes meals, and even checks in on nights and weekends. Her work has also taken her to a local veteran’s center, where she has organized games, engaged with visitors, and run the canteen for a number of years. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, Sandy continues to call clients and eagerly awaits the day where she can return to their homes.
Sandy is part of Telespond’s dedicated team of adults ages 55 and older who support the elderly through the Senior Companion program, which is free of charge for those living in Lackawanna County. Below, she shares her fondest memories in the program and how it allows her to build strong relationships with not only clients and families, but also a close relative and fellow volunteer.
When and why did you begin to volunteer with the companion program?
I began volunteering with the program 13 years ago this August. I was talking with a resident in my building, saying I was bored, and she told me that I should look into Telespond. Since then, I’ve been working in clients’ homes, at the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton, and at VNA Hospice and Home Health as well.
What is your favorite part about being a senior companion?
I really enjoy getting to know different people through the in-home visitations, and I can’t wait to get back to it. We don’t do structured “activities” in the home very often; instead, I’m just there to help with anything they need. Sometimes we work on exercises they have to do or prepare a meal—that kind of thing. I was with one client for over a year who has since passed, and in addition to visiting her home every week I also checked in on nights and weekends. I’ve always been willing to do things like that. Through my work for Telespond at the Gino Merli Center, I help with the games, and I also ran the canteen for six years.
What challenges have you encountered as a senior companion?
Every now and then I lose a client, which knocks me off my feet. It’s a normal reaction and I know it’s something I can’t change, but it takes me a little while to get back into the swing of things when it happens.
Share a memorable moment from your time as a senior companion.
One of the ladies I visit in the home is 101 years old, and she’s absolutely phenomenal. She still lives alone while her niece and nephew (and I) check in on her. I’ve been visiting with her for over a year, and even with the pandemic I’ve gone down to sit outside on her porch a couple of times. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve done with the program; sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, and always it’s interesting.
How has your past (personally and professionally) influenced the work you do as a senior companion?
I always worked as a bookkeeper or a secretary or something to that effect, so I don’t have any professional experience in senior care. Before volunteering with the Senior Companion program, I got connected to the VNA, and working in hospice really made me interested in serving older adults. I have attended volunteer trainings both in this area and in Philly (where I lived and volunteered before) and every now and then I go down to Philly to help families through the organization I was connected with there. When my mom became sick a few years ago, having all of this experience enabled me to be a caregiver for her as well. I was so grateful to be there for her, and caring for her further prepared me to handle even more different situations as a volunteer.
Where in Northeastern PA did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Taylor, went to school there, and worked in the Globe Store for seven years. Then I went to Philly for a vacation and decided not to come home! For most of the time I lived in Philly, I was right in the city, and I remain connected with the Mummers and other organizations around there. I moved back to Scranton 13 years ago, and I have family in the area.
Tell us about your family.
I was raised in the area and, once I returned, I was glad to be able to reconnect with family. When I lived in Philly and visited Northeastern Pennsylvania during the holidays, everything was so rushed, so I never got to enjoy spending time with my mom or the rest of the relatives. Coming back home when I did gave me the opportunity to get know my mother better—as herself, not just as my mom. For me, that made the biggest difference in the world. As far as my sister is concerned, she has been my rock. She and her husband live in Nuangola and, while we can’t see each other much right now, she brings me meals and we talk all the time. I also have cousins in the area, including Warren Barlow, another Telespond volunteer. The two of us actually connected back in 2007 after attending a wrestling show, and since then we’ve gotten very close through our volunteer work.
Share a fun fact about yourself.
I enjoy going to wrestling shows with one of the women who lives in my building. It was something I started to do in Philly, and I just carried it on here. I’m able to go into the gym when the gentlemen are working out and do yoga and different exercises with them. Over the years it’s helped me to stabilize myself, especially when facing difficult circumstances. Wrestling was also how I found Warren and his grandson, and now we go together. We even had our picture posted on their website for a time!
Have you stayed connected with clients during the COVID-19 outbreak?
I’ve been calling them weekly and go to visit my one client on her outdoor porch. I’m looking forward to getting back into volunteering at the Gino Merli Center in August and hopefully will start the in-home program soon as well. Until then, I’ve been staying busy going for rides, going shopping, and doing anything I can to break up the monotony of staying indoors. Being able to see the clients again and knowing I can be there to help is something I’m very much looking forward to.
How would you encourage someone to volunteer with Telespond?
I would recommend it because it gives you the fulfillment of having something to do besides being a senior citizen yourself. It helps you keep your mind in a purposeful mode. I started because I was used to being on the go, and I tell everybody that if you want to stay active, you should get involved with something like Telespond’s Senior Companion Program. I don’t think I ever want to give it up unless I have to.
If you are interested in becoming a Senior Companion, visit www.seniordayservices.org/senior-companion