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Seniors Helping Seniors lands contract with VA in Gainesville

Mike Walters needed to work just seven more years to earn his pension. Although he would be set to have an early retirement, he and his wife wanted to do more with their lives.

And so, they left their comfortable life in Ohio behind and risked it all.

The Walters, who are both 45, moved to Florida and opened a franchise of Seniors Helping Seniors – which is now beginning to work with the Veterans Administration in Gainsville.

“It was the biggest risk that either of us had ever taken in our life,” he said.

Florida ranks second in the United States with over 4.5 million adults aged 65 and older, according to Statista. Every second of the day, one of these adults fall. This leads to injury and potentially death if a loved one is not home to call for help.

Senior care is a major need all over the United States. If people can’t help the elderly, accidents can happen resulting in injury. Walters and his wife Melissa moved to Florida knowing that they wanted to make a difference and help others.

The Walters recently partnered with the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville. Seniors Helping Seniors will now be able to provide care to veterans all over the area.

Mike Walters worked for the Social Security Administration for over 18 years. Melissa Walters had previously been a kindergarten teacher until the couple’s first son was born.

The Walters have three boys. As their youngest started going to school full time, Melissa Walters said she thought about finding a job and working part time.

“I told her maybe we should do something together,” Walters said. “To make a real impact.”

The couple had always wanted to move to Florida. If they couldn’t find a project to work on together, Mike Walters said he thought he could transfer to a local Social Security office and continue his work.

After finding a home in Ormond Beach, the couple began to search for possible franchises to be a part of. Walters said he knew a franchise consultant and asked him how the couple could get started.

After the Walters completed some tests and answered some questions, the consultant came back with eight possible opportunities.

“We got it down to three very quickly, but ultimately down to [Seniors Helping Seniors],” he said.

Seniors Helping Seniors was founded in 1998 and opened to franchising in 2006. The company's goal was to hire able-bodied seniors who can assist their less active counterparts with day-to-day tasks.

The Walters fell in love with the project and started making calls. By Dec. 2021, Walters resigned from the Social Security office. Starting Jan. 2022, the couple would have the franchise rights for Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

The problem was that their family didn’t move into their home until February of that year. Also, due to insurance, licensing and hiring caretakers, the first full month of the center being open was delayed until June.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Hiring able-bodied mature adults to be the caregivers, it’s the absolute biggest differentiator in this industry.”

Not only is this a fine margin of adults, but they also must be veterans.

Currently, the Walters have 189 caretakers working for them, all of whom are veterans. One of them is Charles Rivera, an Air Force veteran.

Rivera, 64, lived in New York all of his life. After the job he did for around 40 years started changing, he decided to take an early retirement and travel to St. Augustine to follow his grandchildren.

“I didn’t choose my path,” he said. “Life chose it for me.”

Rivera was accepted into an upstate New York college after graduating high school. But when his friend wrecked his car, Rivera said he had two options: rely on public transportation or apply for the military.

In 1977, he took a test for the Air Force and did well in the electronics field. Rivera spent the next four years serving this country.

After moving to Florida, he said he was interested in finding part-time work. He submitted his resumé on Indeed and was contacted by Seniors Helping Seniors soon after. Rivera said he immediately liked how he could have flexible hours.

“One of the perks of working for this company, is that it’s teaching me how to grow old,” he said.

Rivera said he was baffled that the number one cause of injury for the elderly is falling. When he found out about Seniors Helping Seniors, he said he knew that this is what he wanted to do.

“I like being useful and making a difference,” he said. Rivera is doing just that.

Seniors Helping Seniors offer a special type of care called respite care. Betty Duckworth said it has been a lifesaver.

Duckworth, 75, takes care of her husband, Charles, who served in the Army for three years in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Charles developed Parkinson’s disease due to the complications of the Agent Orange herbicide used during the war.

Duckworth has contracted with Seniors Helping Seniors for her husband's care for over four months now. She said the company provides much better care than the previous company she was working with.

“They are very easy to work with, very good to talk with, very understanding,” she said. “I’ve been well pleased. More pleased than what I had.”

Respite care allows Duckworth to run her errands while ensuring that someone is watching her husband. The caretaker can stay at the doctors with her husband while she shops for groceries, something that wasn’t possible with the previous company.

If she needs to take a break to relax, Charles’ caretaker will come in and help.

“I’m having dark times, but I have the Lord, and he has brought me Mike and Melissa and the people that they’ve worked hard to interview,” she said. “I’m grateful and thankful for what they’ve done.”

Duckworth was very emotional when speaking of the Walters. They have changed her and her husband’s life for the better.

“They’ve built this company out of love and compassion,” she said. “You don’t do that just for the money.”

Joseph is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing