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Each day this week, in honor of #GivingTuesday, we’ll be blogging and featuring in our social media posts some community heroes we would like to introduce you to.  Each one was nominated by someone out there to be the focus of our efforts to be a Social Media Ambassador.  

Super Hero #1:  Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey

For over 20 years, the Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey have been helping the seniors of Ocean County live independently, aging in-place, with dignity.  Ocean County, NJ is an unusual community.  Nearly one-quarter of its residents are 65 or older. Nationally, older adults comprise about 13% of the population. The large percentage of the Ocean County population that are seniors makes Ocean County the county with the largest concentration of seniors in the Northeast.

According to the Association of Retired Persons, 86% of seniors prefer to live in their own homes. Yet, many lack the support, services, and resources to be able to do so. This problem is especially acute in the communities of Ocean County, NJ where the senior population is so large.

Enter the Caregiver Volunteers Super Heroes

The Caregiver Volunteers recruits, trains, and coordinates nearly 1,200 volunteers each year to assist seniors in many ways. The organization provides non-emergency medical transportation and food shopping services for seniors who remain able to cook at home, but perhaps have problems with carrying groceries or navigating grocery aisles. Respite care for the family caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s is offered as well as pet-assisted therapy. The organization also does senior-sensitivity training and works with you youth in a service project that encourages inter-generational activities and friendships.

But the organization is remarkable, not only for its broad array of services to seniors, but also for the distinctive approach the organization takes. The medical transportation program, for example, provides door-to-door service.  Seniors don’t have to be standing at the curb for a van to come by.  A caring volunteer greets them at their door, escorts them to the car, transports them to the door of the doctor’s office or medical center, and often stays with them through the visit, providing them good company and emotional support.

Throughout the country, there are many pet-assisted therapeutic programs.  Most operate in institutional settings like assisted living and long-term care facilities.  The Caregiver Canines program, a service of CVCJ, pairs volunteer handlers with certified dogs to visit older adults in their homes. 

Al and Grace are a couple trying hard to continue to live in their home despite the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease with which Al was diagnosed 8 years ago.  Al and Grace owned dogs their whole life, but because of their age and various medical issues, they can no longer care for one.

Grace reached out to the Caregiver Volunteers office, asking for a Caregiver Canine visit because she thought Al would enjoy interacting with a dog again, and she herself was quite lonely and isolated.

CVCJ matched Al and Grace with Molly, a loving Caregiver Canine, and Molly’s owner Marty.  When Molly visited them weekly in their home, Al’s face lit up.  On one visit, he bent down to pet Molly and began to repeat over and over “my baby, my baby.”  When Marty looked over at Grace that day, she was crying.  Grace later told Marty that it was the first time Al had spoken in over 6 months. She was overwhelmed to see his response and his delight.

The people of Ocean County have come to really value the Caregiver Volunteers who annually serve about 2,400 people, but the Caregiver Canines program has become a particular favorite. To raise money to support the program, a Pet Fashion Show is held each year.  This year, the people of Tom’s River, a municipality within Ocean County, elected an honorary Pet Mayor to serve as the program’s ambassador beside the [human] mayor at things like ribbon cuttings and parades. Pictured is Bella, the Tom’s River Pet Mayor placing her paw on the Bible to be sworn in.

The organization has been recognized locally, state-wide, and nationally for best practices in the service of seniors by the National Associatioin of Area Aging Agencies, the National Council on Aging, the Tom’s River NAACP, and by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Human Development.

On #GivingTuesday–or any of the other 364 days of the year–you can support the Caregiver Canines by visiting their website and donating online.