The Most Crucial of Caregiving

As the leader of one of Louisville’s largest non-profit organizations devoted to supporting older adults as they navigate the different stages of the aging process, ElderServe CEO Julie Guenthner is on a mission to expand and grow the group’s programs and services. Armed with a staff of 19 full-time and 65 part-time employees, and 300 volunteers, ElderServe works with more than 3,000 clients annually. After their recent announcement that they are moving into new offices at the Atria Support Center thanks to a fundraising campaign spearheaded by Atria Senior Living, I talked with Julie to learn more about ElderServe, their programs and volunteer opportunities.

LORI KOMMOR: What does this new space mean for ElderServe?
JULIE GUENTHNER: Our new location means so many things to us. It means we can now focus our energy on serving our clients, and less time on operational issues – such as making sure email is up and running, or the heater is working properly. By moving to this new, state of the art facility, we can now focus on recruiting volunteers and developing fundraising efforts to support the programs and initiatives that help our clients. Finally, we are now strategically and geographically located where we can foster new relationships and partnerships – such as with the University of Louisville’s Institute for Sustainable Health Optimal Aging. Such collaboration will only benefit us, and in turn, our clients who rely on us.

KOMMOR: As an organization that works with seniors, what is your primary objective?
GUENTHNER: We want to empower older adults to live independent and fulfilling lives, as they progress through the aging process. We have a number of programs and services that provide assistance, companionship, referrals informational resources and even peace of mind to the many seniors we help each year. We have social workers who are specifically trained in geriatric care, so that we can address the unique needs of this rapidly growing and very important population. With this population expected to increase to 20 percent of the total population by 2030, there has never been a more critical time to address the needs of this group.

KOMMOR: You have a diverse range of programs that seem to address different needs at different stages for your clients. Tell me about those.
GUENTHNER: We do indeed address the needs of seniors with these programs. For instance, we offer Geriatric Care Management, where caseworkers provide information and assistance to clients about available services to meet their needs – such as in home care, or identity theft restoration. Caseworkers work with these clients to empower them to use their own strengths and abilities to fulfill their needs. For those with limited abilities, our staff works to coordinate needed services for them. Also, we have HomeCare, which provides non-medical support for older adults, including home management, personal caregiver relief and specialized care for those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. And our Crime Victim Services program works with adults ages 60 and over in Jefferson County who are victims of crime, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation and caregiver neglect.

KOMMOR: So many older adults are lonely and remain within their homes. Are there programs that help them to socialize and remain connected with others?
GUENTHNER: Every day we see the dire need for simple companionship. That’s why we have a couple of programs that target this group specifically. Our Friendly Visitor program offers companionship to adults 65 and older in Metro Louisville. Volunteers are paired with participants to provide companionship and emotional support. We have one volunteer who is a teacher and reads to a senior who is visually impaired. In another case, a gentleman who is a volunteer takes a client fishing, which is what he, has always wanted to do and enjoys immensely. Volunteers commit to making two visits per month for one year. Many of them find it rewarding and remain with the participant after the one-year period. We also provide Senior Companions to assist older, frail adults who need assistance with the tasks of daily living.

KOMMOR: ElderServe does so much. Do you rely on assistance from community partners?
GUENTHNER: Our community partners are a blessing and truly define partnership. We work with other organizations such as Christian Care Communities, who manage the Adult Day program at our Senior Center, and other critical partners include the Louisville Metro Police Department – who often refer clients to us or contact us when they see someone in need. The University of Louisville is also a valued community partner as well.

KOMMOR: Louisville is fortunate to have a strong base of volunteers and people who want to help. What are the specific volunteer opportunities available and how can people learn more about getting involved?
GUENTHNER: Indeed, we are so grateful to our 300-plus volunteers who allow us to serve the community. We have very simple needs, such as a program called TeleCare that allows volunteers to just call and check on isolated or homebound seniors. We even train the volunteers so they can identify when participants need special attention. We also need volunteers for our Friendly Visitor program, and also for our CATCH Healthy Habits program- matching up adults age 50 and over with kids to help teach them about good eating habits and exercise. These adults work with the kids in a fun, active intergenerational setting. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, I encourage anyone who is interested to call us at 502.587.8673, or visit www.elderserveinc.org.