Hidden Gem: Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado

Laura Kinder is the Director of the Empowering Aging Department at Spark the Change Colorado and Terri Patrick, Senior Companion Program Manager for Pueblo, Huerfano, and Las Animas Counties. They’ve answered some questions below to help librarians around Colorado learn about their organization, agency, and/or services.

Below, you’ll learn about the Senior Companions program at Spark the Change Colorado and their potential to help you serve your community. In addition, at the end of this post we’ve included some of their resources for you to view and/or use.

View web recording of the Virtual Partner Forum event on September 19, 2023 on YouTube or scroll to the bottom of this page

Americorps and spark the change colorado logos

Tell us who you are and what you do for Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado.

I’m Laura Kinder, the Director of the Empowering Aging Department. I oversee the federally funded AmeriCorps Seniors, Senior Companion Program at Spark the Change Colorado. My office is in the Park Hill District of Denver, next to the Pauline Robinson Library Branch on the corner of Holly and 33rd and am the proud card-carrying patron of 3 local libraries – Nederland, Boulder, and Longmont.

I’m Terri Patrick, Senior Companion Program Manager for Pueblo, Huerfano, and Las Animas Counties. I work remotely out of my Walsenburg home. I, too, am a card-carrying patron of libraries in all three counties!

How can Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado partner with a library to offer resources or programming to the local community of library visitors and users? 

There are several ways we can partner with libraries. A simple way is to present our program to older patrons of the library as a resource for them if they are looking for ways to volunteer in their communities. We can provide informational flyers and bookmarks that can be distributed or posted in the library. We can enter into a Memorandum of Understanding where the library serves as one of our “volunteer stations.” In this case, the library appointed person would serve as a representative of the library and oversee our Senior Companion volunteers serving their older patrons by matching them with an older adult and signing off on monthly paperwork.

The libraries in our southern, more rural counties can serve as “tech hubs” to provide education to our older adults as they navigate their new phones, computers, and/or tablets. This is an essential part of our Senior Companion Program as technology is required to complete background checks and training.

Finally, libraries can serve as safe, neutral meeting spaces for the Program Manager to establish Meet and Greet sessions between new clients and their Senior Companion. 

Learn more about the Spark the Change Colorado supports the state’s Affordable Connectivity Program for seniors below.

What needs or challenges can Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado help libraries address for their communities? 

For older patrons, Senior Companion volunteers can pick up and drive their clients to the library and attend community events put on by the library together. Volunteers can read to their clients if they are visually impaired or just would like to hear someone reading to them. Of course, they can be their own book club, discussing what they are reading. Senior Companion volunteers can let their clients know about the many services the library has for community members.

Senior Companions may also help guide their older adult clients as they explore new technology or different programs available at their local libraries. Even in the more rural settings, libraries have state-of-the-art technology available for use in addition to fun offerings such as a seed library or a spice library as offered at the Rawlings Library in Pueblo.

Senior Companions have been featured in media including “The Hidden Epidemic Endangering Coloradans, Especially Older Adults” on Collective Colorado. 

What regions – cities, counties, areas – of Colorado does your organization reach?   

Our Senior Companion Programs currently are found in these counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Huerfano, Jefferson, Las Animas, and Pueblo. 

Do the services or resources from Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado cost any money?  

There is no cost to people assigned to a Senior Companion and receiving services from a Senior Companion.

Do libraries have to provide any funds or apply to any grants to work with Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado? 

No, there is no financial obligations for libraries.

Do libraries have to provide any staff, volunteers, or training in order to run your programs or provide resources or services with Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado?  

There is not an obligation that the library needs to provide staff, volunteers, or training to run the Senior Companion Program. However, if a library chooses to, they can become a Senior Companion Volunteer Station where they are able to refer people to the program to become Senior Companion and refer older patrons to be clients of the program. If Senior Companions can tap into trainings or presentations the library is already providing, the volunteers and their client would benefit from them.

What support can you offer libraries to help them access additional resources or funding to bring Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado to their library?  

Both Laura and Terri are experienced grant writers and are familiar with some Colorado and national funders. We could assist with strategies on applications to funders that would benefit both the library and the Senior Companion Program. We also participate in certain fundraisers as volunteers, or we can have a table at appropriate events representing both the Senior Companion Program and libraries.

Let’s say one of our librarians, directors, or staff contact you and says, “We want to bring Senior Companions from Spark the Change Colorado to our community!” What will the next step look like?  

We will meet with librarians and library staff to discuss how the best ways to partner in bringing the Senior Companion Program to their communities whether that is presenting to patrons or developing a Memorandum of Understanding with them.

You will be attending a Virtual Partner Forum with the Colorado State Library on Tuesday, September 19th, from 11-11:30AM where you can answer questions directly from Colorado libraries who are able to attend. How else can people reach you? 

Yes! There will be two of us. Laura Kinder representing the Denver-Metro area and Terri Patrick representing the southern counties of Huerfano, Las Animas and Pueblo.

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Not every resource or partner that we highlight will meet the needs or fit in with the mission of every library or community that will read this post. Furthermore, no single interview can include every available opportunity to work with Senior Companions at Spark the Change Colorado.

If you could not attend our Virtual Partner Forum feel free to email me – Cristy Moran, Adult Library Services Senior Consultant at the Colorado State Library – at moran_c@cde.state.co.us or Laura and Terri directly at the contact information listed in the interview above.

Cristy Moran