Boca Raton’s Seniors Helping Seniors a lifeline during COVID-19 pandemic
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the country faced what The Atlantic called a “baffling problem”. A nation-wide mask shortage. China had stopped shipping masks to the United States due to its own Coronavirus outbreak, and America’s stockpile was almost out. Healthcare workers were forced to reuse masks and people across the country were trying to come up with alternatives to store-bought medical-grade face masks.
The gravity of the situation and the undeniable impact it could have on the elderly population was not lost on Ed Dunkel and Paul Kaiser, owners and caregivers of the local branch of Seniors Helping Seniors, which took action early on in order to ensure the safety of both employees and clients.
“I went to all the local sources, drug stores, etc., to see if I could buy some masks and they were already sold out and at that point I thought…this is going to be a problem,” said Kaiser. Fortunately, a company called Satin Avenue Alterations operates out of the same complex that Kaiser and Dunkel have their office and after providing the owner with a mask, Kaiser inquired if she could produce them for Seniors Helping Seniors.
Not only was she able to make masks for the senior care providers, but because of the high demand for the product at the time the business she received from Dunkel and Kaiser “led other businesses to her also,” such as a local medical association and flight attendants, Kaiser says.
Originating from Pennsylvania and first beginning their work in 1998, Seniors Helping Seniors has since expanded around the country and internationally, with Ed Dunkel and Paul Kaiser opening the local branch May 12th of 2014. “We have…Boca Raton as a territory and we go down into Broward County…as far as Fort Lauderdale Airport, [our territory] is quite large, it goes from the ocean all the way to the Everglades,” Kaiser explains.
The organization Seniors Helping Seniors is primarily based around two ideas. Seniors can help each other age more happily and gracefully, and that seniors who give, and those who receive, benefit equally.
“The people that we have primarily do the work are younger seniors…people in their sixties and early seventies, and they are primarily helping seniors in their eighties and nineties,” explained Kaiser. “We find that since they have a closer age…there is a bit more compatibility,” as opposed to having a helper who is in their twenties or thirties.
And as the founding principle states, the relationship can benefit both parties. Finding a job can be difficult for an individual in their sixties or seventies and “this is a job with some dignity that they can do,” Kaiser says, and then points out that many of the employees may need the help they are currently providing in the future.
The organization offers various services depending on the needs of the client, but when asked what the most common way they help is, Kaiser responds that it is providing companionship. The bulk of their clientele live alone and Seniors Helping Seniors “[provides] a friendship, a companionship, we go over, we check on them,” Kaiser says, “We become almost a family member as time goes on.” This includes helping in other capacities as well, such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, attending doctors’ appointments, and grocery shopping. The services they provide allow the client to continue living independently at home.
Many of the Senior Helping Seniors employees have one of two things in common. Either they were “people who have previously been in jobs which require…helping other people,” such as nurses or schoolteachers, or they have personal experience caring for an important elderly person in their life, such as a parent. The latter is what led Kaiser and Dunkel to Seniors Helping Seniors.
“Ed and I decided on this franchise because it was something that both of us could use our personal experience of caring for our parents for…we were able to identify with it…the concept appealed to us,” Kaiser explains.
Although they own the organization, they also find time to act as caregivers, and the program has doubled in size since they started.
It has grown “like a living organism” Kaiser says, “it grows bigger, and it contracts, and then it will grow bigger,” and the COVID-19 pandemic creates another important shift in their program.
According to Kaiser, while they provide the same services that they did before the pandemic, the number of clients and the length of time they provide those services has changed.
“The people that remained with us [after COVID-19 hit], we were…a lifeline for them, and we have become even more engrossed in helping, more dedicated, and we place more people for a longer time [with clients] to make sure they are able to get through the COVID-19 problems which arise,” says Dunkel.
And even after the pandemic eventually comes to an end, there will be a lasting impact on senior care in the United States.
Kaiser predicts that, “People are going to be a little more wary about going into senior living facilities, and they are going to want to stay living at home as long as possible,” and that is the primary mission of Seniors Helping Seniors. “We are affording the individual who is receiving service the ability to live for a longer period of time in their home, and that is invaluable, that is what aging is all about.”