GLEN BURNIE, Md. — On a bright sunny morning, Christine Jennings needs to get to her doctor’s appointment. There’s just one issue.
“I don’t drive,” she said. “My back is fused. It looks like railroad tracks.”
So, the 67-year-old reached out to Partners in Care Maryland, a nonprofit that helps seniors with day-to-day tasks.
“I called to get a ride to the doctors, and I was lucky to have Iris be assigned to me,” Jennings said.
Iris Koley is a Partners in Care driver and has volunteered for the organization for the past 16 years.
“I’ve done a lot of driving,” Koley said. “I’ve enjoyed helping people.”
What makes this connection so different, though, is that both women give back to the organization in their own way. Koley drives, while Jennings volunteers in the nonprofit’s office.
“I started out doing birthday cards and now I’m into data entry,” Jennings said. All the time they give comes back to them through a time banking system.
“That generation - they don’t like to ask for handouts. So, what can we do to make it where they would be willing to ask for help or to receive services? What can we do to make it as easy as possible so that they’re willing to have a network in a community?” said Mandy Arnold, who is CEO of Partners in Care Maryland.
The nonprofit runs background checks on the 800 volunteers in the program, as well as those who need help.
“Our main programs are ‘transportation,’ ‘handyman,’ and then ‘member-care services,’” Arnold said. “Our services and our mission is to support the independence of older adults so that they can age in place, be an active part of the community, but also keep their dignity and respect.”
That’s where the “time banking” comes in. All of the hours put in by volunteers can eventually be used by them when they get older and need help themselves.
“It teaches you a lot and how you go about your own life and plan ahead and for yourself in the future,” Koley said, “because everybody is going to age and everybody is going to need help eventually.”
It’s a crucial need, considering that more than 55 million people in the U.S. are over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, driven in part by the aging Baby Boomer generation.
For the first time in the nation’s history, people over the age of 65 are now expected to outnumber children by the year 2034. All of that comes with big challenges, including how to care for the nation’s skyrocketing aging population.
“The Biden administration did propose to add $150 billion more for home and community-based services, but it hasn’t passed Congress,” said John Schall, CEO of the Caregiver Action Network.
Schall pointed out that there aren’t enough nursing home beds in the country to accommodate the growing need. His organization recently gave a significant grant to Partners in Care.
“The only way we’re going to be able to live through this, what I call, ‘caregiving cliff’ that we’re headed towards, is really by putting supports in place so that people can live at home longer than they would otherwise,” Schall said.
That includes the work that Partners in Care is doing.
“When I go places, and I tell people what we do and how we do what we do, they’re always like, ‘Do you have that here? I wish you had that there because my parents or my grandparents,’ someone that they know could benefit from it,” Arnold said. “And so, it is needed, it’s needed all over the United States.”
That’s something Christine Jennings understands more than most. She retired from a career working for the state’s Department of Aging.
“So, it’s full circle,” she said.
For more information about Partners in Care Maryland or to volunteer, click here.