There’s a forgotten population of adults here in Akron: those who are mentally or physically impaired or developmentally disabled and without anyone willing or able to care for them.
Two years ago, Jewish Family Service of Akron (JFS) and Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer partnered to institute a Volunteer Guardian Program to help serve this hidden population.
There are currently have 77 volunteers, but the baby boomer population is aging, creating increased need for additional volunteer support, says J.J. Mesko-Kimmich, who works for JFS as director of Volunteers for the program.
Says Stormer says of the program: “The need for compassionate, committed guardians is growing every year. I invite you to consider becoming a guardian through the JFS Volunteer Guardian Program. As a trained Volunteer Guardian, you can make a real difference to someone facing the most challenging time of their life.”
Program clients (wards), who are only accepted by referral from the Summit County Probate Court, must be 21 or older and must reside in Summit County. All JFS Volunteer Guardian clients live in nursing facilities and group homes that accept Medicaid.
The responsibilities of Volunteer Guardians include contacting their wards by telephone, letter and/or personal visit at least four times per year. Guardian paperwork is minimal; they are required to submit only one report per year to the court. Volunteer Guardians may be asked to assist with decisions involving medical treatment, housing, transportation and personal care necessities and options for their clients.
Says Kimmich: “In both the nursing home and the group home setting, there are supports and care teams in place to work through the decisions. They all work together on behalf of the client, and the guardian is a part of that team, plus the Coordinated Care Team (CCT) at our office can help too. There are many supports in place.”
Volunteers must be 21 or older with a valid driver’s license. They do not have to reside in Summit County. JFS and the Summit County Probate Court require that all Volunteer Guardian applicants submit to a background check. Once accepted, they are asked to make an 18-month commitment to the program.
Volunteer Guardians are carefully matched with their clients. Kimmich takes gender, age, location, special client needs and Volunteer Guardian skills into consideration when pairing volunteers with their clients. Volunteers choose their clients from those identified as matches. They may visit the client first before making a commitment to a specific individual.
JFS Volunteer Guardians have no financial or estate management responsibilities, nor do they have any personal care duties.
Each volunteer receives comprehensive training so that they may enter the field well-prepared and confident about their role in their client’s life. There are also optional supplemental quarterly volunteer training sessions, and program staff are always available to provide added support.
JFS and the Probate Court work together closely to administer the program, and it receives a significant portion of its funding from the Court.
To learn more about the JFS Volunteer Guardian Program, go to http://jfsakron.org/volunteer-guardians.