When Jake Swaney attended a volunteer fair at the Sunnycrest Mall in 2013, he didn’t realize that he would be embarking on a decade-long relationship with the United Way’s Better at Home project.
The program aims to keep seniors in their own homes longer by connecting them with volunteers who can assist with transportation to appointments and social outings, light house and yard work, friendly visits and grocery shopping.
Jake was attracted to the program because of his own mother’s experience with dementia and the displacement she felt when she had to move into a care facility.
“Even though she had all her own furniture and with her, and all her important possessions, it never felt like home for her,” he explains. “The reward for me is seeing people happy to stay in their own house. They can keep their pets; they have their own routine and their own bathroom. They know where everything is, and they feel comfortable. Especially when people start losing their memory or their mobility, being at home and having some independence makes their lives better.”
Over the years, Jake has helped dozens of local seniors with yard work and garden building, grocery shopping, transportation around the Sunshine Coast and to Vancouver for medical appointments, and simply helping people maintain a healthy social life.
“One of my clients who was in a wheelchair just needed someone to take him to his coffee shop every morning and pick him up in the afternoon. He would spend the day visiting with friends and neighbours who knew he’d be there, and it was so much better for him than just sitting at home by himself.”
The work is not always easy, he says. He has worked with couples where one person is living with dementia, and seeing the stress and loss on the other partner can be taxing. “But my mother received a lot of help,” he says, “and so I want to pay that forward.”
“I don’t think people volunteer for recognition. We do it because we want to help,” says Jake.
“I think that you have to ask, ‘What do you like to do, and what can you commit?’ I’ve put in so many vegetable gardens for people who no longer have the ability to do that heavy work but who still want to [take care of a garden]. Of course, you’re giving up your own free time, but you’re making someone happier.”
After ten years with the organization, Jake has retired as a volunteer but hopes that more Sunshine Coast residents will step up. The Better at Home program is still working its way back to pre-COVID capacity, and Jake says it needs new volunteers to keep it energized. “It’s an excellent program, and I’d like to see it keep going.”
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