Kendal Grant Funds Initiative to Reduce Isolation, Suicide Among Older Adults

Program has potential to be replicated nationwide

Dec. 19, 2017—Kendal Charitable Funds announced Tuesday that it has awarded a $50,000 Promising Innovations grant to fund a two-year initiative to engage isolated older adults who are at risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide through one-on-one home visits, support groups, educational programs and referrals for needed services.

The grant will benefit adults 60 and older living in Prescott, Arizona, and surrounding areas in Yavapai County by allowing the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Foundation to greatly expand its Senior Peer Prevention Program.

“With this grant we intend to nearly double participation in the Senior Peer Prevention Program from 1,161 today to 2,000 seniors over the next two years,” says Laura Norman, Chief Development and Communications Officer for the Clinic and Executive Director for its Foundation. “Some of the best protective factors against depression, substance abuse and suicide among elders are increased feelings of connectedness and support from ongoing relationships, which is what the Senior Peer program provides.”

Because of its moderate climate, at an altitude of about 5,300 feet, Yavapai County is a popular retirement destination in northern Arizona. In fact, adults over 65 make up 29.1 percent of the population, compared to a statewide average of 16.4 percent. However, the age-adjusted suicide rate in Yavapai County is 32.8 per 100,000—more than twice the national average.

“We draw a straight line between isolation, depression and suicides,” Norman says. “About 90 percent of those over age 65 say they want to stay in their homes and age in place, but someone who ends up living at home alone can become disconnected from everything. Older adults typically enroll in our program when chronic health issues, the loss of a spouse or some other significant life change increases their feelings of vulnerability and isolation.”

“With this grant, the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Foundation will be able to greatly expand the reach of its Senior Peer Prevention Program, enabling many more older adults to age in place without being isolated,” James Dowell, chair of Kendal Charitable Funds, said in announcing the award. “This program has the potential to be replicated in large and small communities nationwide.”

Those who volunteer to serve in the Senior Peer program have a training manual for reference, are coached on what to expect during their weekly visits and are trained in nonjudgmental listening and goal setting.

“The commitment involved in being a Senior Peer volunteer is substantial,” Norman says. “It’s not so much the time it takes—it’s an hour or an hour and a half a week, plus the time it takes to document the visit—it’s a commitment of the heart beyond the commitment of time.”

Volunteers are carefully screened and interviewed, and they are finger printed and undergo a criminal background check before they accepted into the program.

“When you’re dealing with vulnerable older adults and you’re sending volunteers into their homes, you want to make sure you’ve done your due diligence,” Norman says. “The more voluteers we have, the more we will have to spend on finger printing and background checks, which the Kendal grant will help pay for, along with reimbursements for mileage for volunteers.”

The Promising Innovations grant also will allow the Senior Peer Prevention Program’s volunteer coordinator to increase her workweek from 32 hours to 40 hours. In addition, the grant will help pay for expanded advertising and outreach activities to recruit more volunteers.

“I think it’s fair to say that most volunteer activities don’t have the same emotional commitment involved in going into someone’s home,” Norman says. “I’m thinking of one 85-year-old gentleman who lost his spouse and lives at home and is really searching for any kind of connection or purpose and you, as a volunteer, become a lifeline to him. It’s vitally important in a way that’s different from other types of volunteering.”

The effectiveness of the expanded Senior Peer Prevention Program will be evaluated based on ongoing measurements of connectedness and mood.

A panel of leading experts on aging selected Senior Peer Prevention Program proposal for funding from among 280 letters of intent and 12 finalists from across the nation. Promising Innovation grants provide seed money for the creation of new services that are in keeping with Kendal’s Values and Practices.

“Kendal’s pursuit of better ways to address the unmet needs of older adults, coupled with the generosity of the Janet Comey Foundation, Kendal residents, board members, staff and others outside Kendal, led to the creation of the Lloyd Lewis Promising Innovations grant program,” said Beverly Grove, Executive Director of Kendal Charitable Funds. “Promising Innovations grants provide an opportunity for greater collaboration among those of us who seek to improve the quality of life and care for all older people.”

About Kendal Charitable Funds

Kendal affiliates work together within the Kendal System and with caring people outside of it to transform our culture’s view of aging and of older persons, stressing the potential for fulfillment and continuing contribution during the later stages of life. Kendal Charitable Funds, established in 1989, raises and disburses funds in support of Kendal’s charitable purposes, including many outreach efforts. As a system of not-for-profit communities, programs and services founded on the principles of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Kendal aspires to transform the experience of aging.

In 2007, the Kendal Charitable Funds board approved the creation of the Lloyd Lewis Fund to support advances in serving older adults through the Promising Innovations campaign. The fund and campaign were made possible by a gift of $250,000 from the Janet Comey Foundation, a private foundation established through the estate of former Kendal at Longwood resident Janet Comey. Since then, the Promising Innovations campaign has raised over $500,000 in matching gifts, more than tripling the size of the Lloyd Lewis Fund.