Senior Companion Program Volunteers: Exploring Experiences, Transformative Rituals, and Recruitment/Retention Issues
Senior Companion Programs (SCPs) help the homebound elderly. They operate through local Area Agencies on Aging, but any nonprofit institution can apply for funding and operate a SCP. Program volunteers are 55 and older. They visit qualified elderly clients, which includes people who do not have the ability to fully care for themselves. Volunteers provide social interaction to clients, but they also provide a minimal level of services, such as grocery shopping, light housekeeping, and respite for caregivers. Examining the experiences of volunteers in these programs can help us better understand why actively engaging with others is important as we age. It can also help us establish a knowledge base that aids in our understanding of how to recruit and retain senior volunteers. This article uses data gathered from phenomenologically based, qualitative in-depth interviews of 10 SCP volunteers. Focusing on volunteer experiences, it uses structural ritualization theory to analyze various volunteer activities, which the research considers ritualized symbolic practices. It also considers how transformative rituals within a SCP impact volunteerism, and it provides recommendations on how to increase SCP volunteer recruitment and retain volunteers. The article concludes with suggestions for future research.