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Volunteer Chore Program: Neighbors helping neighbors

Aug 1st, 2018 | Category: Community

by Mary Vermillion

The Volunteer Chore Program is a simple concept that is making a big difference in the lives of low-income seniors and people with disabilities. A service of the Opportunity Council’s Whatcom Volunteer Center, the program pairs volunteers with clients who need help completing everyday tasks, so they can continue living independently in their homes. In 2017, staff matched 170 volunteers with 300 Whatcom County residents. That’s impressive, but more help is needed to meet demand.

Dianne has been helping Babbette with grocery shopping, and enjoy each other’s company. PHOTO BY CLINTON JAMES PHOTOGRAPHY

Dianne has been helping Babbette with grocery shopping, and enjoy each other’s company. PHOTO BY CLINTON JAMES PHOTOGRAPHY

To qualify, clients must be 60 or older or 18 or older with a disability, have a limited income, be isolated from friends or family, and referred by a doctor, social worker or counselor. Program director Abby Lund said helping clients stay in their homes is a cost-effective alternative to assisted living. She estimates program costs at approximately $350 per client; annual care in an assisted living facility may be $54,000.

The program receives funding from grants, donations, the state and the Whatcom County Health Department, which covers transportation costs for veterans who need to travel for medical services.

Housekeeping assistance is the No. 1 request, but volunteers also help with gardening, grocery shopping, animal care, meal preparation, reading mail, minor household repairs and other errands. “These essential, simple projects are actually improving (clients’) quality of life,” Lund said. Volunteers also provide a safety net because during their visits they may discover other issues and can connect clients with services. “We’re building a sense of community by creating connections for people who may not otherwise have them,” Lund added.

The program’s website lists volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups. Some projects are short-term; others are ongoing. Volunteers can set their own schedules and choose projects that fit their skills or interests.

Retired teacher Joe Nolting is entering his sixth year as a volunteer. Once a week, he delivers boxes of groceries from the Bellingham Food Bank to clients who can’t drive. “I have a soft spot in my heart for the elderly and people with disabilities,” he said. “And I’m a big fan of the Bellingham Food Bank so it seemed like a good fit.”

He currently has five stops but has had as many as 10.  He could drive his route in an hour, but it typically takes longer because he stays to visit with clients or to help with things around their home. “I may be the only person they see that day or for several days,” he said.

Nolting added his volunteer shift also helps him. “There are a lot of retired people in Bellingham,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can do. We can recreate – play golf, bike – all that’s good and healthy, but we can live fuller lives, be more full people if we get involved. This (the Volunteer Chore Program) is one that’s really simple and makes a huge difference for people.”

That’s true for Volunteer Chore Program client “Margaret.” At 86 years old, she can no longer care for her 5-acre property but is determined to stay in her home. Lund rallies student groups and teams from local businesses when “Margaret” needs help. “Every time, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” “Margaret” said. “When you’re on Social Security, you can’t afford to hire help.”

She raves about a group of Phillips 66 volunteers who recently pruned fruit trees, weeded her garden and picked up tree branches that had fallen during a windstorm. “It was marvelous,” she said. “There were about 20 people here for six hours. Let me tell you, when they left, I just about cried. My place looked wonderful.”

How you can help

To learn more about volunteering with the Volunteer Chore Program, call 360-734-5121, ext. 172 to schedule an orientation or visit the program website, Support the Whatcom Volunteer Center by attending the Opportunity Council’s 6-10 p.m. Oct. 6 Oktoberfest fundraiser at Bellingham Technical College. The event features craft beer, music and food. Buy $25 tickets in advance or pay $30 at the door. Buy tickets and learn more at


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