Meet Sandy Smith
You don't have to have any special skills to be a Volunteer Companion at the Alzheimer Society of Oxford. Sandy Smith has learned you just have to be a compassionate person with two hours a week to spare. “You will get all the support you need, and the rewards are huge,” said Sandy, who has been a volunteer companion for a decade.
Sandy has been matched with a variety of people during her years volunteering with the program, and said the activities she's shared with her matches vary from playing cards to building a bird house. It all depends on what the client likes to do, and how they're feeling on the day of the visit.
Her current match likes to talk, and Sandy is content to let her match carry the conversation.
“I really say very little,” said Sandy.
A previous match liked to go on outings and would often be waiting outside the door with a big smile as Sandy arrived for their visit.
“What we do depends on the client,” said Sandy, adding the Alzheimer Society does a thorough interview with the clients and their families to find out what the client likes to do. There is also a treasure trove of games and activities available at the Alzheimer Society to spark a client's interest.
“You play it by what they are capable of and are interested in,” she said. “You roll with wherever they are when you get there.”
Sandy started her volunteer companion work more than 10 years ago when she received a telephone call asking if she would be interested in volunteering. “I thought, if I don't have two hours a week to give to something like this, something is wrong. It's not a big time commitment and the payback is ten-fold.
“I feel I'm getting an immense amount of satisfaction in knowing I'm truly helping this family. I feel like I'm helping, and it's rewarding, and I feel appreciated.”
Extensive training by the Alzheimer Society gave Sandy the information she needed to be able to be effective as a volunteer companion. She learned about Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, communication strategies, activity ideas and program strategies.
As a volunteer companion, Sandy also receives ongoing support and education through regular contact with the Volunteer Companion Program coordinator and monthly support meetings.
Sandy's volunteer contribution to the Alzheimer Society also includes her annual involvement in the Walk for Alzheimer’s. For several years, Sandy has volunteered to be at a registration table where Walk participants arrive to hand in their pledge money. Sandy said her reward is the fun she finds in watching the fundraising event unfold and to hear the stories of each of the participants she speaks to.
“The human factor is really interesting,” she said.