SAGE Friendly Visitor Program Offers Insights into NYC LGBTQ+ Elders’ Triumphs, Challenges
By Julie Ugoretz, LMSW, SAGE Friendly Visitor Program Manager
The holidays are often a time when people feel called to volunteer, perhaps serving at a soup kitchen or delivering meals to homebound elders. The volunteers at SAGE’s Friendly Visitor Program, which has served LGBTQ+ elders living in New York City since 1979, engage in this service year-round by offering weekly home visits and calls. The program matches older LGBTQ+ adults with volunteers to alleviate isolation, help with errands, meals, medications, provide technical assistance and establish a link to other elders in the community.
This year, SAGE conducted a survey of these volunteer Friendly Visitors. The survey was designed not only to measure volunteer satisfaction and flag support needs, but to delve a little deeper into the program’s actual impacts.
One of the survey’s major findings was that having a close personal relationship with an LGBTQ+ elder provides exposure to the realities of aging. Volunteers witness not only the challenges of aging, but also its triumphs, including the joy felt in finding community and celebrating one’s own resiliency.
In one volunteer’s words, the program “has provided a window into old age that’s been meaningful.” Volunteer responses often reflected the complex ambivalence around aging. As one volunteer said, “in a positive way, the Friendly Visitor Program has reaffirmed that life continues and can be fulfilling as one age.”
Being a Friendly Visitor has also, for many volunteers, highlighted the serious problems that LGBTQ+ elders face every day in New York. “Government services can be limited and difficult to access, and in a city like New York, accessibility on public transit and the ability to move easily throughout the city is a challenge,” explained one volunteer.
Even with exposure to the difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ elders, volunteers reflected positively on their work with the program. One volunteer said: “The Friendly Visitor Program has shown me that aging can be engaging and fun, while also reminding me of the importance of community and stewardship…To hear life stories and lessons from an older member of my community is something that I never experienced in my youth and has shown me that even at [a young age], there is still so much to be learnt from those that came before and paved the way.”
Perhaps most profoundly, SAGE’s Friendly Visitor program has offered many volunteers a sense of hope for the future, reminding them that because of the work of SAGE and other organizations nationwide, support structures will be in place for them as they themselves age.
Beyond categories such as “client” and “volunteer,” “elder” and “young person,” the Friendly Visitor Program reminds us that, as one volunteer put it, “we are all surprisingly similar as humans—sharing in the need for human connection.”