Ask Joan what she talks about with her Senior Peer Counseling clients and she’ll point to her knee. “Battle scars,” she says with a laugh, “knee replacements, arthritis, medications that are working and ones that aren’t.” She is one of 87 volunteer Senior Peer Counselors who joined our program this past year, and among a special handful who work specifically with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clients. Each week, Joan is the bright spot in the life of an isolated older adult, using the simple tool of conversation to ease the aches and pains of aging.
For Melvin*, one of Joan’s clients who has chosen to remain closeted within his senior living community, her weekly visits are a rare chance to be himself. Countless LGBT older adults go back in the closet upon entering long-term care facilities, fearing discrimination, lack of acceptance, and even bullying. With increased odds of being single and without children or supportive families, many LGBT elders become disconnected and depressed.
That’s where Joan comes in. During her six-week volunteer training, she honed her listening skills, learned how to connect her clients with local resources, and discovered the best ways to break down social barriers. “We’re all getting older,” Joan admits, “but there’s no reason why anyone of us should have to walk that path alone.”
*name changed to protect privacy