Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Caring company.(Trends)

Byline: Story by Polly Summar *Photographs by Dev Mukh Khalsa Of the Journal

Help for the Holidays

Today the Journal concludes its annual Help for the Holidays series, for readers who want to lend a hand to people in need in New Mexico. Thanks to everyone who has responded, and happy holidays!

Volunteer companions help lessen seniors' feeling of isolation

Skitch Ferguson and Jim Peterson have been friends for 14 years. They met at a local meeting and, well, just liked each other.

"You could probably say that 99.9 percent of people like Jim," says Ferguson, 51, sitting in Peterson's studio apartment at Encino House, a retirement center. Peterson is 82.

But while Peterson's life is filled with good friends, he says he's especially lucky "to have Skitch," who visits him every day.

For seniors, that kind of companionship is priceless. It can make the difference between feeling a part of the world vs. being completely isolated, says Bernadette Silva, coordinator of volunteer programs of Senior Support Services for Catholic Charities.

In years past, visiting and checking in on older relatives and friends was just part of life. And for the lucky ones, like Peterson, it still works that way.

But with people moving farther away from their families, seniors are often left without nearby relatives or friends. For those seniors, companionship usually only comes through a structured program that connects volunteers with elders.

Fortunately, there are a number of such programs in the Albuquerque area.

"Even if someone could only donate a lunch hour, it could make a huge difference to a senior," says Silva.

Growing friendship

On a recent visit between Ferguson and Peterson, the scene is much as it usually is.

Peterson is wearing a pair of his trademark gold shoes ("I just buy old, beat-up shoes and spray-paint them," he says) and sitting in a swivel chair in his "command central."

Around him are a half-sized refrigerator, a microwave with Hillary Clinton's photo on top ("I love Hillary," he says), a TV set, another TV set attached to the security camera in the lobby ("I like to watch what's going on") and his computer. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.