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U of U W.D. Goodwill Initiatives Aid Older Adults

Jan. 19, 2006- University of Utah College of Social Work students in the Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) program have been assisting Salt Lake City resident Thelma Roberson, 87, for more than a year. Roberson lives alone and because all of her family lives in different cities, she needs help maintaining her home and property. NHN students vacuum for Roberson weekly and have cleaned her yard and washed and painted her living room.

“The NHN students have really been a blessing,” says Roberson. “I don’t know what I ever did without them.”

NHN is designed to link elderly people with community resources, to provide reassurance and opportunities for socialization, and to provide continuous assessment, follow-through and support. In addition, NHN provides community service, professional training and social research. NHN is the heart of the W.D. Goodwill Initiatives on Aging, administered by the U’s College of Social Work Research Institute. NHN is a practicum site for social work undergraduate and graduate students as well as students working toward certificates in gerontology from the U’s College of Nursing.

Since 2001, NHN students have helped more than 500 senior citizens live independently in their homes. Neighborhood volunteers, private corporations and county agencies have joined University and student resources to meet the specific needs of older adults in a respectful and timely manner.

Ryan Engar, director of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program says, “In recent months, a few of our program participants have passed away. These friends left this earth residing in the homes they grew old in. Although unfortunate for those left behind, NHN staff and volunteers find some peace in knowing that we assisted them in maintaining dignity and independence to the end, which increased their quality of life.”

O. William Farley, director of the W.D. Goodwill Initiatives on Aging, says the effects of the program are immeasurable. “We give these senior citizens ‘the human touch.’ We meet individual needs as well as offer emotional support,” says Farley, a professor of social work at the U.

NHN is currently helping more than 90 senior citizens in a variety of ways-making friendly visits, painting homes, installing a new furnace or simply cleaning up and grooming yards.

One NHN program participant found it difficult to maneuver the steep flight of stairs that led to the basement where her washer and dryer were located. NHN volunteers moved the appliances upstairs, offering what Farley calls a “quality-of-life” service. But NHN clients are not the only ones who gain. Students involved in the NHN initiative benefit in a variety of ways. One NHN client is giving students art lessons. Roberson is helping another with his American history studies. Sara Fitzgerald, a graduate student from the University’s College of Social Work who is completing her internship with NHN, says that in addition to giving her a practical, hands-on experience, NHN has helped her understand the variety of services older adults need.

Fitzgerald hopes to build a career assisting the older population. Since August, Fitzgerald has aided seniors with yard and house work and has taken participants to a museum and to a Harry Potter movie. “Most of the seniors are isolated,” she says. “This program helps them get out and accomplish what they need to. It also provides them with social contact.”

For more information on the W.D. Goodwill Initiatives or NHN, call 801-581-5162 or visit