Seniors get much-needed advice and support from their Silver Neighbors

The RISE Foundation’s Silver Neighbors program is making a big impact on seniors across the Mid-South in helping to maintain their economic security, from avoiding scams and fraud to navigating benefits eligibility and health care coverage.

RISE launched the program in March of 2012 through a partnership with the Aging Commission of the Mid-South and Memphis Area Legal Services. In its first year, Silver Neighbors served more than 700 seniors, and that number grew to more than 1,000 seniors served last year.
“As we get into our 60’s and 70’s, many of our close friends and relatives are not here anymore, so we get isolated and we don’t get the information we need or we don’t have the support,” said Juanita Parker-Williams, program manager of the Silver Neighbors program.
The program currently connects with older adults through 94 locations around the Mid-South area, including churches, walking groups, book clubs, AARP groups, senior centers and senior housing organizations.
“We want to reach as many seniors as we can,” said Parker-Williams. “Our learning circles are informal sharing of information that affects older citizens in our community. Anywhere that seniors gather we’re willing to go to. We take the information to them.”
Silver Neighbors provides seniors with information about financial products and community organizations that provide free assistance with financial issues.
A staff of 20 trained senior volunteer ambassadors, including agency staff, ministers, group leaders and community members, lead the learning circles in covering a wide range of topics such as: benefits eligibility, budgeting choices, long-term care, credit freezes, elder financial abuse, funeral service purchase and end-of-life decisions, hiring help at home, home improvement scams, identity theft, life insurance, medical billing and debt medical expense deduction for SNAP, Medicare open enrollment, reverse mortgages, safe investing, scams and fraud, Social Security, and stopping telemarketers.
“We deal with things like stolen checks, with people writing fraudulent checks on the senior’s account,” said Parker-Williams. “We’ve also had situations where seniors receive phone calls to buy magazines and enter lotteries, and then they never receive the magazines and there is no lottery.”
Many seniors have also been taken advantage of by people who come out to their home to repair their fences or roof.
“They might give them money and not see them again, or they may not do the background or reference checks they need to do before they hire people and it ends up in a bad situation,” said Parker-Williams.
Importantly, the volunteers educate about the financial products they own or purchase and provide information about available benefits in the Greater Memphis community, but they do not sell any products.  
With the large number of Baby Boomers hitting senior age and living longer, the need for programs like silver Neighbors is expected to increase. To help meet the demand, Parker-Williams expects to train five additional senior volunteers in by next year.
Since 2014, the program has also expanded thanks to a Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse partnership with the Plough Foundation and its network of organizations in Memphis that serve the needs of the elderly who have been emotionally abused or financially exploited.
“A lot of times it’s not one isolated form of elder abuse, it can be several,” said Parker-Williams. “Social workers and trained family advocates at the Family Safety Center can talk to seniors if they are not sure if a neighbor is being abused or even if they just need to take to someone about what’s going on with them.”
The Silver Neighbors program is funded by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Plough Foundation and Community Foundation of Greater Memphis.
The mission of the nonprofit RISE Foundation is to empower people in the local community to become self-sufficient by building and sustaining human and financial assets.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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