At 94, Ethel feels at home in her Teaneck apartment, and she’s very attached to the friends she’s made in her twice-weekly visits to the township senior center, where she enjoys exercising and taking classes on writing and “cerebral gymnastics.”
She cherishes her ties to the community where she’s lived for 45 years.
Thanks to a non-profit program called CHEER, Ethel didn’t have to upend her life 10 years ago, when a serious accident left her unable to drive or perform necessary chores like grocery shopping or carrying a laundry basket down the stairs.
The decades-old program matches willing volunteers or trained aides with older residents who are capable of living alone but have health or mobility challenges that make it too hard for them to shop, run local errands, or do laundry and other housekeeping.
The program offers help with such routine tasks, but it also offers a social connection that, for some CHEER clients, can be just as much of a lifeline.
“There’s a reason it’s called CHEER,” said Michele Ogden, who coordinates the program now operated by the non-profit Bergen Volunteer Center.
Ethel looks forward to her Tuesday morning visits with Shani, a 29-year-old Paramus resident with special needs. Some of CHEER’s 36 active volunteers are participants in programs that offer vocational opportunities for special needs adults.
Those partnerships allow CHEER to serve a dual purpose, with young adults like Shani gaining important interpersonal skills while also helping fill the growing demand for volunteers to visit and assist older residents living on their own.
CHEER, which stands for Compassion, Health, Education, Empathy, and Respect, currently serves more than 90 older adults. Its nine paid employees serve clients who need help with laundry and light housekeeping. But while the program serves all towns in Bergen County, it doesn’t have enough volunteers to take on the numbers of older adults seeking help with grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, or other light errands. It sometimes takes Ogden as long as 6 weeks to find volunteers to assist newly referred clients.
“We really could use more volunteers,” Ogden said. Some CHEER volunteers have formed years-long relationships with clients.
Ethel and Shani have grown close to each other after being paired up 5 years ago. Shani said she usually finishes the weekly grocery shopping quickly, having grown accustomed to finding the items on Ethel’s list, so the two have more time to “talk and hangout.
They have discovered a mutual love of cats as well as a keen interest in stories from the science section of the newspaper.
“Shani has helped me a lot, and I would like to think that in some small way, I’m helping her too,” Ethel said.
Ogden calls their relationship one of the program’s “matchmaking miracles.”
Who We Are
Age-Friendly Teaneck formed in 2016 with this mission in mind: A great place to grow up should be a great place to grow old.