As a Yellow Door volunteer, I experienced what it's like to be a senior citizen alone in the big city. I learned to help and appreciate these wonderful people.
The Yellow Door is a community group located in Montreal, Canada. Although Montreal is a French city, there is a sizable English speaking community. Many of these anglophones are independent seniors and the Yellow Door, through their Elderly Project, does their best to ensure their continued independence. This is done through programs involving friendly visits and accompaniments.
Friendly visitors provide a social connection for seniors who often live alone in the city. Volunteers are paired up with individual senior citizens, who often live alone in the city. Many of the elderly clients are surviving spouses and are separated from children and family. Some are immigrants who are far from home and relations. Volunteers are encouraged to make regular weekly visits to their client.
The volunteer becomes a friend and companion to the elderly person. The volunteer also serves as the eyes and ears of the community. While a friendly relationship is established, the friendly visitor can also be observant regarding health and safety issues in their host’s home. If the visitor perceives that there may be health or emotional problems, The Yellow Door will investigate and, if need be, refer the problem to the appropriate agency.
I first contacted the Yellow Door in May 1999. I had quit my job and was looking for a place to offer my services as a volunteer. After an initial interview with the two staff coordinators and a police check, I was cleared to serve as a Friendly Visitor. I also made myself available to accompany elderly clients to medical appointments or on other outings.
Many seniors have physical limitations such as blindness or the need to use a wheelchair or walker. Sometimes they get confused while away from home and need someone there to lend moral support. The Yellow Door provided me with training in the proper handling of a wheelchair and taught me to be sensitive to the many limitations that may be present in an older person, such as hearing loss and visual handicaps. Aside from physical shortcomings, some seniors are suffering from dementia and other related mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s.
My first client for friendly visits was Roger, an 82-year-old man living in a high rise senior’s residence. He is legally blind and never leaves his building. His wife died twenty years ago and they had no children. His nearest relative, a brother, lives fifty miles away and they seldom speak. Despite the solitude and handicap, Roger is an “independent” senior. He lives in his own 2-½ room apartment and pays his own bills. A bank employee comes to the residence every month to cash his pension check and perform other banking services.
A domestic comes bi-weekly to clean his apartment and do his laundry. This is a government-financed service. There is a small convenience store in the building, which dispenses a few groceries and household items. An in house cafeteria provides low cost meals. Roger doesn’t need to leave the building and that suits him fine.
All in all, I really enjoyed my year visiting Roger. He is a very intelligent, interesting man with a lot to say. I am certainly a better person today, having been enriched by this unique relationship. I recommend it to anyone.