FriendshipWorks aids older, isolated Boston-area residents

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By K.B. Sherman

“We need each other,” said FriendshipWorks Executive Director Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, “especially older people who have to fight diminishment and the lessening social connections that come with age and fragility.”

The comment sums up Seckel-Cerrotti’s belief in the value of FriendshipWorks, a volunteer organization based in Boston. Working with a staff of 15, she organizes the activities of a group of about 200 volunteers in the Boston-Brookline area who serve their clients. Both English and Spanish are spoken.

The group was initially called Match-up Interfaith Volunteers when it began in 1984 as one of 25 projects started and funded by the Robert J. Wood Foundation, self-described as the nation’s largest philanthropic organization devoted solely to the public’s health. Interfaith Volunteers recognized the problem of people “aging in place” while family and friends moved away or died; in the past 30 years this problem has become more acute due to the Baby Boomer population. The initial Wood grant was for three years. After that, the group sought to fund itself through grants from other foundations, the government and private donors.

“Our volunteers provide a wide range of services,” Seckel-Cerrotti said, “from changing light bulbs to fixing a lock to help with shopping or doctors’ appointments to just providing companionship and relating news.”

Help provided is divided into two categories: short-term assistance and regular assisted visiting. Short-term visiting can be one, two, or three visits by Friendly Helpers, who can cut the lawn or fill out forms for the client. They also provide medical escort services (excluding transportation) to accompany the client for emotional support and help in interpreting medical advice. Longer-term assistance seeks to build lasting friendships between staff and client through regular visits. Helpers might serve as walking companions, bring an animal for a pet visit, or play music.
When FriendshipWorks felt that their client community needed a larger-scale recognition, they hired O’Neill and Associates for professional public relations. This has gone well, according to Seckel-Cerrotti. Ann Murphy, vice president of O’Neill and Associates, is happy to discuss FriendshipWorks with potential donors atamurphy@oneillandassoc.com.”

Seckel-Cerrotti has always wanted to do volunteer work with the elderly, she explained. She attended Hunter College in New York and earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in social work. She has lived in Wellesley for nearly 30 years and is married with three children.

“Our mission endures,” she said, adding that the group continues to seek the end of social isolation of the elderly and is working to expand its size and scope by 100 percent in the future.

Those who wish to help FriendshipWorks may donate online through www.fw4elders.org or by mail at FriendshipWorks, 105 Chauncy St., Suite 801, Boston, MA 02111.

“Research shows that being socially isolated is like smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is twice as harmful as obesity,” noted Seckel-Cerrotti. “We seek to help.”