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Lack of Volunteers Leave Elderly Looking for Conversation

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Lester Poole, 94, is one of more than 170 residents at Ocala Health and Rehabilitation Center. The center as been steadily losing volunteers over the past year.
Lester Poole, 94, is one of more than 170 residents at Ocala Health and Rehabilitation Center. The center as been steadily losing volunteers over the past year.” credit=”Dee Tierney / WUFT News

Lester Poole has stories he may never get to tell.

The 94-year-old served in the United States Coast Guard from 1939 to 1947, during which he traveled the globe and went wherever the tide took him.

“South Africa. Brazil,” he said. “You name it, I’ve been there.”

Though he was once surrounded by at least 600 men serving his country, he finds himself lonely now and is just looking for “somebody to talk to other than myself.”

He is not alone. The Ocala Health and Rehabilitation Center is home to Poole and is losing volunteers – fast. The center houses more than 170 residents, and about 30 of those are war veterans.

At one time, the facility had volunteers who regularly participated in monthly outings and activities with the residents. The center’s popular Adopt-a-Grandparent program has also disappeared.

David Bryson, resident council president, said he first noticed the dwindling turnout about year ago. That was when he first took to Craigslist to enlist community help, but it has not had much of an effect.

“I think it’s probably financial more than anything,” he said. “People just don’t have as much time anymore. They’re working.”

The same thing is happening in other places, too.

Soncee Green, the activities director at Crestwood Nursing Center said the economy has also had a noticeable impact on volunteer turnout at her Palatka facility.

The Putnam County Humane Society used to bring puppies to the center once a month to keep residents company. But with recent budget cuts, the society can no longer afford the gas necessary to make the trips.

Neither can volunteers whose faces were once familiar at the center. Many of them have had to take on paid work.

Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has managed to keep a steady flow of volunteers thanks to its location in the heart of Gainesville.

Activities director Allen Alexander said he still gets a relatively steady turnout of volunteers from local churches and university students in search of service hours.

The others are not sure what they can do to reverse the trend.

Betty Young, the social services assistant at the Ocala Health and Rehabilitation Center, said some of the residents have outlived their families and are entering their last years alone.

A chance to socialize with people from outside the facility could help restore a sense of normalcy and independence.

“You can make them so happy by just listening to them,” Young said. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

About Taylor Widom

Taylor is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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