The Social Development Commission established the Family Friends Program that involves older adult volunteers helping homeless families move toward self-sufficiency.
The Social Development Commission (SDC) formerly coordinated the Family Friends Program that matched older adult volunteers with homeless families living in the agency’s Family Support Center (FSC) transitional housing facility or another emergency shelter. A Family Friends Caregiver Fact Sheet provided an overview of the program. Volunteers helped families move toward self-sufficiency and provide support including:
- Homework help for children
- Lending a supportive shoulder and listening ear to an overworked parent
- Budgeting, home upkeep, parenting, nutrition and career planning
Volunteers must be 50 years or older and are recruited by SDC through a number of community-based churches. Recruitment efforts were supported through the leadership of various ministers, along with media coverage.
Prior to being accepted as a volunteer, individuals were required to complete (a) Volunteer Interview Questionnaire, (b) Medical Information Form, and (c) Background Information Disclosure Form from the State of Wisconsin. A Program Coordinator staffed the program and interviewed volunteers in their home to determine their suitability as a Family Friend. Case Managers worked directly with participating families to establish individualized service plans.
Volunteers were often brought into the program on a group basis from the same congregation in order to promote a support system among them. Participation in a 20-hour orientation process was required before being matched with a family. This typically occured over a 4-5 day period. An Orientation Manual was provided for on-going reference. In-service training was also conducted on a monthly basis. Topics covered includee information on budgeting, nutrition, job readiness, energy assistance, police/safety, tenant rights, resume writing, and community resources. Families were also invited to attend in-service training sessions or their Family Friend shared the material covered during training if they were unable to attend.
Families were matched with a volunteer about two weeks before they left the Family Support Center or a facility operated by another Continuum of Care provider. Either the Program Coordinator and/or the Case Manager participated in the first meeting between the family and the Family Friend.
A Participant Agreement Letter was used to establish the family’s commitment to be involved with Family Friends. A Demographic Information Form and a Family Self-Rating Questionnaire were used to identify areas of assistance to be addressed by the Family Friend. Referral Cards are used to link children with available services.
Volunteers met once a week for a minimum of 4 hours with each family, providing support with life skills (parenting, budgeting, nutrition, and career planning). Involvement might continue for up to six months after the family moved to permanent housing as part of the HUD Continuum of Care Program that SDC used for Family Friends funding.
On-going services occured with the SDC Family Support Center staff, which consisted of two Family Friends Case Managers and the Family Friends Program Coordinator. Linkages to community resources were developed including organizations that provided donated items such as furniture, small appliances and household items, and clothing to help set up new housing. An individual with a truck moved items for ½ of the customary cost. Food vouchers were also obtained for use at a nearby grocery store and churches occasionally provided monies for special needs such as rent, food, etc.
Some volunteers were involved with the Enrichment Program of SDC’s transitional housing facility rather than being matched with a family. This included work with literacy and child development activities and offered an option that worked particularly well for individuals who do not drive.
Family Friends received a $10 stipend per family visit not to exceed 4 visits per month. A Daily Timesheet was maintained reflecting the total hours worked and activities carried out during each visit. Expense reimbursement was also provided for travel costs.
An Advisory Council met quarterly to support and monitor the program. There were eleven members on the Committee representing churches, community agencies, a former Family Friend family, and community representatives. The Family Friends Alert newsletter was published to share information with volunteers and families and an annual luncheon was held at a local restaurant to recognize volunteers.
Two publications to support the creation of Family Friends Programs were available through the National Council on Aging:
44 volunteers provided services to 155 families annually. This included services to 464 children. Parents ages were 24-41 and 67% of all parents were working. Volunteers developed long-term relationship with most of the clients which lasted long after the families left the program.
Bernice Vega, Volunteer Coordinator