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Multi-faith effort to aid elderly

Sept. 13, 2023

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

St. Peter’s Parish and other Christian churches in Massena are joining forces to provide a little help and a little companionship for the elderly in Massena and Louisville.

The churches are launching “Fourth Coast Companions,” a volunteer organization that will help seniors with basic tasks such as shopping, meal preparation, outings, rides to appointments – even just friendly conversations on the phone.

In part, the effort will help fight the sense of loneliness and isolation many elderly experience.

St. Peter’s Pastor Father Mark R. Reilly said church ministers constantly see the need for this type of program as they perform their ministries, such as taking Holy Communion to homes. The elderly often just want them to stay and talk.

“We might be the one conversation or voice they have in the home that’s not coming from TV,” Father Reilly said. “There’s such a hunger for this type of interaction.”

The endeavor is being undertaken by the Greater Massena Ministerial Association. Members of the Greater Massena Ministerial Association are St. Peter’s Parish, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Salvation Army, Emmanuel Congregational United Church of Christ, First United Methodist Church, and New Testament Church.

It is the multi-faith organization’s biggest project yet.

Fourth Coast Companions will serve all the elderly regardless of faith or church affiliation, including those of no faith.

It will be modeled on the successful Mercy Care for the Adirondacks program run by the Sisters of Mercy since 2007. Mercy Care for the Adirondacks received a Mother Cabrini Health Foundation grant to provide startup assistance to organizations throughout the North Country. It already has assisted in launching volunteer friendship efforts at St. Alexander’s, in Morrisonville; Community Health Center of the North Country, in Ogdensburg and Malone; and Elizabethtown Community Hospital.

At St. Alexander’s, 22 people showed up for the initial volunteer training, according to Donna Beal, executive director at Mercy Care for the Adirondacks.

Fourth Coast Companions will be the first multi-denominational church effort with startup help from Mercy Care of the Adirondacks.

“This is a creative, innovative and wonderful example of a community working together,” Beal said.

It has been shown that alleviating isolation and loneliness leads to improved health for seniors, Beal said. To that end, the effort is being welcomed by local health care providers.

Fourth Coast Companions is now putting out the call for volunteers. It will conduct a volunteer training on Sept. 13, Wednesday, from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m. at New Testament Church. Volunteers need to register for the training by calling Karen Wilkins, Fourth Coast Companion volunteer coordinator. She can be reached at info@fourthcoastcompanions.com or by calling (315) 514-9394.

For those unable to make the September session a second volunteer training will be held in November.

Once trained, volunteers will go out and aid seniors and form friendships during visits, usually just an hour or two a week.

Organizers say the program doesn’t just improve the lives of seniors; it also empowers volunteers.

“We are aware this is awesome for the elderly, but it’s also awesome for volunteers,” said Justin Cardinal, executive pastor at New Testament Church.

Fourth Coast Companions plans to begin providing services once it has its volunteers in place.

More information will be coming on how the elderly can connect with a Fourth Coast Companions volunteer.

Fourth Coast Companions will rely solely on grants and charitable gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations for its financial backing.

All Fourth Coast Companions services will be provided free of charge to the elderly.

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