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35th Anniversary for OPWDD’s Senior Companion Program

Marking 35th Anniversary, OPWDD’s Senior Companion Program Lauded as Agency Gem

Nov. 4, '14
By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

If you’re 55 or over and you like to give, the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has got a program for you.

Since 1979, the OPWDD’s Senior Companion Program has been pairing volunteer seniors with older people with special needs, with the volunteers spending quality time with the individuals with disabilities on a regular basis. 

Volunteered are compensated with a modest tax-free stipend, paid vacation, sick leave and other benefits, a daily meal allowance or a meal and transportation or mileage reimbursement.

Qualifying participants must also be able to volunteer 15-40 hours per week, be income eligible, and love to help people, according to an official OPWDD brochure.  No medical or technical skills are required, either.

While volunteers do not require any medical or technical stare not considered staff or aides of disability programs, they do receive pre-service and on-going training from the program’s regional coordinators throughout the state.

According to the OPWDD, among the goals of the program are greater community inclusion, socialization opportunities, meaningful friendships, and opportunities to improve activities of daily living skills.

Senior Companions kicked off in March 1979 with a $300,000 budget for 150 volunteers.  By 1985, it had expanded to 400 slots for volunteer opportunities in developmental centers, community residences, day programs, sheltered workshops, non-profit agencies, family care homes and even hospitals.

This November, the Senior Companion Program marked its 35th anniversary. Today, over 434 volunteers support 846 individuals at close to 180 sites. 

The program is part of the federal Senior Corps Program, a national volunteer effort that currently boasts some 450,000 volunteer seniors in various capacities.  Senior Corps itself, which also runs the Foster Grandparents and RSVP programs, is part of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.