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.


Elderly Volunteers, Active Aging, Senior Companion Programs, Area Agencies on Aging, Semi-Standardized Interviews

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Jason S. Ulsperger is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Arkansas Tech University, where he teaches social gerontology. He received his B.S. from the University of Central Arkansas and M.A. from Arkansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Oklahoma State University. His article in Sociological Spectrum, "The Social Dynamics of Elder Care," recently won the Mid-South Sociological Association's award for publication of the year. Along with his book Elder Care Catastrophe: Rituals of Abuse in Nursing Homes, Ulsperger is the co-editor of three oral history collections involving elders living in the Arkansas River Valley. He is a recent recipient of Arkansas Tech University's Faculty Award for Teaching and the Faculty Award for Scholarship and Creative Activity.

Jericho McElroy is a graduate student at Arkansas Tech University, where he received a B.A. in Sociology. His research interests involve symbolic interaction theory. He is currently developing a biographical piece on Erving Goffman's contributions to social psychology.

Haley Robertson is a graduate student at Arkansas Tech University. She holds a B.A. in Communications. She is currently interested in researching public relations issues for institutions involving elderly populations and the victims’ rights movement

Kristen Ulsperger is a Visiting Instructor of Sociology at Arkansas Tech University. She received a B.S. from the University of Central Arkansas and a M.A. in sociology from Arkansas State University. Before teaching, she worked as a consultant and as a researcher for a variety of non-profit organizations.

Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Jason S. Ulsperger at julsperger@atu.edu.

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