For over 15 years, Warren Barlow has been connecting with fellow seniors in the Lackawanna County area through Telespond’s Senior Companion Program. A northeastern Pennsylvania native, 79-year-old Warren says he enjoys meeting new people and hearing stories from those who have lived both near and far from home. Below, he shares how he first became involved with the Senior Companion Program and some of his most memorable moments as a volunteer.
When and why did you begin to volunteer with the companion program?
It was about 15 years ago or more. My wife suggested it because she thought I would do a good job with talking with older people. I saw something about it in the paper and decided to give it a try.
What is your favorite part about being a senior companion?
You meet a lot of good friends who have held a lot of different occupations, and you hear a lot of interesting stories. We talk, we play checkers, stuff like that. I have two clients currently, but once things get running again, I will probably be back up to visiting four or five. It keeps you busy!
What challenges have you encountered as a senior companion?
I haven’t encountered too many challenges. You go through training before you volunteer, and they walk you through pretty much everything you can expect. For many years, I also volunteered at the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton, and one of the clients I worked with there was blind. Helping him, especially with things like describing where everything was on his plate, was really good training for helping people with all types of challenges through the Companion program.
Share a memorable moment from your time as a senior companion.
I often do jigsaw puzzles with clients since that’s something they really enjoy. And we talk a lot. I had one client who was a surgeon in the war, and my very first client used to drive a general around during World War II. I had one client with this little rat terrier who used to know whenever the mailman was coming. My client used to race him to get the mail, because otherwise the dog would tear everything to pieces! Like I said, you meet a lot of really interesting people.
How has your past (personally and professionally) influenced the work you do as a Senior Companion?
I was in the Reserves for six years, and that led me to volunteer at the Gino Merli Center for years along with volunteering for the Senior Companion program. I used to be the only volunteer in the veterans’ center after 4 o’clock, since I would volunteer with the Companion program in the morning and then head over to the Center in the afternoon. I’ve also always just enjoyed talking with older people and hearing interesting stories.
What led you to Northeastern PA?
I grew up in Avoca and I now live in Taylor. I’m retired after working for many years at Thompson Electronics in Dunmore.
Tell us about your family.
My parents lived in Avoca forever. My parents, my brother and I used to go out all the time and spend time together as a family. My wife passed away three years ago, and I have two sons, one grandson, two granddaughters, and one great granddaughter. Most of them live around here, but one granddaughter lives in North Dakota.
Share a fun fact about yourself.
My grandson got me into professional wrestling. There’s an organization in Archbald which has training and matches, and I like going with him to watch the matches. He used to know all of the wrestlers and got to go behind the scenes. Of course, he knows much more about it all than I do—you ask him anything about wrestling and he’ll have the answer! I enjoy going with him.
Have you stayed connected with clients during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Oh, yes, I have been calling them. One person often calls me and asks when I’m coming back. I’ve been staying occupied around the house, going outside when it’s nice out and cleaning inside when it’s not, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the program.
Why would you encourage someone to volunteer with Telespond?
You meet very interesting people, and most of them are very nice. A lot of people are also short on cash right now, and you get a small stipend through the Companion program. I use the program to keep busy, and it also helps pay the bills.