Posted 11/16/2009 - 10:56:11am by Michele Melendez
Without hesitation, David Zowin, a 43-year-old with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, expresses his feelings for Civitan Foundation employee Jon Cochran, 73.
“I was born and raised to have respect for my elders,” says Zowin, whose parents are deceased. “Jon is more than just an elder. I feel he is a dad to me.”
Based in Phoenix, Civitan purposefully develops those kinds of relationships by recruiting people over 50 as caregivers for individuals with developmental disabilities. In fact, the organization, which offers respite care through a summer camp and year-round social and learning activities, developed its Caring Connections program to attract workers over 50.
“We were having a very hard time retaining employees for direct care,” says Dawn Trapp, executive director of Civitan (not affiliated with Civitan International). “We were predominantly hiring college students, and turnover was very high.”
And, Trapp says, “Workers over 50 bring compassion, patience and a real desire to connect and build lasting relationships.”
Caring Connections, which launched in 2008 to meet the demands of a growing clientele, is a recruitment and training program. It reaches out to encore workers online, in newspaper ads, at job fairs and through other organizations. Employees receive extensive training to work with an often challenging population.
Cochran learned of Caring Connections on a job search Web site. Over the years, he has worked in different roles – as car dealer, real estate agent and president of a Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter.
In retirement, Cochran was bored. Civitan’s online listing appealed to him. “It was something that I could really get into,” he says.
Cochran met Zowin at the foundation’s camp during the summer of 2009. Zowin had recently lost his mother to cancer, and Cochran offered empathy.
“Evidently, I hit the right buttons,” Cochran says. “David seemed to blossom.”
Civitan has had no problem recruiting boomers and older workers like Cochran.
In less than a year, about 50 individuals, who range in age from their 40s to their 70s, have gone through Caring Connections training. More than 20 have been hired as part-time caregivers, with the rest in the process of being matched with clients.
“Some have come to us because they needed to reenter the work force for financial reasons,” says Merilee Adams, who coordinates the program. “Others have come to us because they want something to do that is rewarding and fills their need to be valuable and productive.”
Carol Kratz, program director at the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, which gave Civitan a grant to start Caring Connections, can attest to the program’s worth. “The project demonstrates the effectiveness of the combination of these caring older adults with the individuals needing their attention,” she says, adding that the employees have demonstrated that they “have the patience and experience to relate well to individuals with disabilities.”
For more information, contact Dawn Trapp, email@example.com, or visit: