Extending program management and capacity through partnerships with volunteer stations

Abstract: 

This practice is one in a series of successful management practices that relate to Program Example — Helping Seniors Live at Home: Salt Lake County Aging Services Senior Companion Program.

Over the past 25 years, the Salt Lake County Aging Services (SLCAS) Senior Companion Program has emerged as a highly effective program that connects the county's older population with its diverse array of aging services. What began as a simple companion/visitation model has gradually evolved into one that supports a broader set of national health priorities such as respite care, extended residency at home, and wellness. Critical to this evolution has been the development of long-term partnerships with volunteer stations, including the local Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, the Salt Lake Housing Authority, and Jewish Family Services, among others.

Issue:

Program managers are continually challenged to find ways to extend their reach and maximize service outcomes for the community.

Action:

Deliberate partner selection
SLCAS has been highly deliberate in their development of eight volunteer station partnerships. Not only have these partnerships led to greater reach into the community, they have also helped ensure that the Senior Companions are fully supported in the field and placed in settings where they can best serve their clients while also having a positive volunteer experience.

Shared management functions
As a result of these successful partnerships, the volunteer stations have emerged as an established component of the Senior Companion Program management team. They bring on-the-ground insight and experience into key program operations including screening, placement, and training of companions. While these functions are formally managed by SLCAS's central program staff, over time they have evolved as shared responsibilities.

  • Screening: Volunteer station supervisors participate in interviewing prospective companions before they are accepted into the program and placed in a client's home.
  • Placement: Once SLCAS places a companion with a particular volunteer station, that station is responsible for matching the companion with a client who falls within their organizational and geographical purview.
  • Training: The volunteer stations play a critical role in training companions and reinforcing core competencies taught in the initial training provided by SLCAS, as well as providing specialized training related to their specific assignment. The specialized training allows Senior Companions to help target resources efficiently by being the ears and eyes for the partner aging care services. For example, a Senior Companion who sees a VA client four hours a day may notice a change in the client's condition that could go undetected by a medical professional during a single visit; the companion can report this observation to the VA for follow-up from an appropriate professional.

Outcome:

SLCAS and their eight partner volunteer stations share an open communications channel and a common sense of program ownership. The stations that make up the decentralized field structure of this program have emerged over time as an established component of the Senior Companion Program management team. As long-standing partners, they understand the needs and interests of their senior communities as well as SLCAS's priorities and expectations for the Senior Companion Program. The benefits of this type of shared management model result in increased program capacity through longer tenure of volunteers and greater program reach through the endurance of the volunteer station partnership.

Citations: 

Abt Associates. (2011, December). Serving communities: How four organizations are using national service to solve community problems. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.


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