Friendly Visitor Project Reaches Home-Bound Elderly in Nebraska Farming Community

Faith in Action

Field of Work: Providing volunteer services for elderly and disabled people through interfaith programs.

Problem Synopsis: In 1983, more than 10 million American elderly or persons with chronic disabilities had limited ability to carry on such essential activities of daily living as feeding, dressing, and bathing. Such individuals usually require a mix of medical and supportive services to help with ordinary activities of daily living such as feeding, bathing, dressing, housekeeping and transportation. In rural Saline County, Nebraska, families have moved into towns to work or go to school, often leaving older people alone out in the country with little contact with others.

Synopsis of the Work: Faith in Action, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), funded hundreds of projects across the country to support interfaith volunteer caregiving. The Friendly Visitor project of Saline County, spearheaded by the Saline County Eldercare Coalition, surveyed older people in the community and found that their biggest fear was dying alone. In response, the Friendly Visitor volunteers checked on older people living at home.

Key Results: The Friendly Visitor project reported the following results:

  • The project grew from 12 Friendly Visitor volunteers serving 20 older adults at the start of RWJF funding in 1996 to 30 volunteers serving 42 older adults after funding ended in 1997. More than half of the older adults were visually impaired. Friendly Visitors volunteered more than once a week to pick up their mail, open and read it to them, write letters and pay bills.

    Many volunteers provided rides to town for doctor appointments, groceries and medications. Once a month, volunteers put together a basket of donated food and brought it to the elders.
  • In the course of their visits, volunteers often learned that the elders were having a difficult time paying for their medications. When this happened, project staff worked with drug companies to obtain free or reduced-rate prescriptions, helping 23 people in this way.