CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Edelia Medina has been a volunteer for Americorps’ Senior Companion program for almost 10 years. After retiring from being a healthcare provider, she wanted to become more active and get out of the house more.
“I’ve always loved people, but I’ve learned to understand elderly people,” she said.
Her senior companion is Estela Garcia. At 91-years-old, Garcia is still up to play table volleyball and the Hispanic game Loteria, a version of bingo with pictures instead of numbers.
For Medina, the program is also a way to connect with someone she would not have otherwise met.
“I just feel a good sensation in my heart, that I can do something for the city and being a companion for people,” Medina said.
Almost two years ago, the Senior Companion Program had to go mostly virtual because of the pandemic. Volunteers were allowed to meet-up, but at a distance through things like a door screen.
The program has been facing a shortage of volunteers lately. Usually they have 70, but that number has dropped down to 60 and they need people to step up and volunteer.
The City of Corpus Christi Interim Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation, Lisa Oliver, said the pandemic caused a shortage of volunteers, but the age of volunteers has also played a factor into the shortage.
“We have had volunteers that have aged in the program itself, so we’ve lost some volunteers due to a change in their health,” Oliver said.
According to the CDC, nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. They said poor social relationships are associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
Garcia’s family said she developed dementia when the pandemic forced her last senior center to close, leaving her home alone. Garcia said the program has helped her not think of the pandemic, and with Medina to accompany her, she’s keeping connections.
“I didn’t think about any of that. Just in coming and having a good time….and that’s what we do here….have a good time,” Garcia said.
However, at the end of the day, Medina said the program has also benefited her because it’s not just Garcia that needs a friend.
“I need someone like her and I know they need someone like us,” Medina said.