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The National Senior Companion Program

The First National Conference on Aging held in 1950 under President Harry Truman spurred interest in establishing programs to “serve older persons by older persons.”

In 1955 funds were obtained from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to sponsor two demonstration projects, one in Tampa, Florida and one in Cincinnati, Ohio. These were only for demonstration for that year.

Five years later, during President Richard Nixon’s term, the ACTION agency was authorized to expand the role of low-income older volunteers to provide person-to-person services. A few programs were initiated in the western United States.

On August 1, 1974, the first 18 Senior Companion Programs were funded throughout the country. This nationwide project represented a variety of Companion assignments in rural, urban and suburban communities. By 1975, over 1,000 Senior Companions served in projects that ranged in size from 40 to 120 Companions. Today, there are 147 projects funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service with a total of 8,100 Senior Companions. An additional 2,800 Senior Companions are assigned to 44 non-federally funded projects.

The Maine Senior Companion Program

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill to expand the Senior Companion Program to five new sites, one of them in Maine. The Bureau of Maine’s Elderly was the first sponsor and Washington and Hancock Counties were chosen to be the first to initiate this project east of the Mississippi River. The other states added at this time were Hawaii, Idaho, new Mexico and South Dakota.

The first Volunteer Stations to begin in 1979 included Pleasant Point, Indian Township, Public Health Nursing, Eastern Task Force on Aging, and Community Health and Counseling Services. At least 15 people became active as Senior Companions by the end of that first year. One of those pioneers still resides in Maine. Cooperative Extension, under the umbrella of the University of Maine, became the program sponsor on January 1, 1981.

This successful program continues to grow, and frail elderly people continue to be able to stay in their own homes a little bit longer because a Senior Companion is visiting them on a regular basis.

This Maine history was submitted by Marcia Bernhardt, Washington County, Senior Companion program.


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