Java Mentorship facilitator Deb Walton presents a 12-week certificate to Maria Savegnago, who volunteers as a peer mentor at Echo Village. She invited her sister, Milvia Oldale, second from left, as her guest. Surjit Jhaj, director of programming and adult day services, congratulates Maria. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Peer mentoring helps seniors in Port Alberni beat loneliness

Java Mentorship participants celebrate 12 weeks of teamwork

Seniors at Echo Village recently celebrated the 12-week mark in an innovative peer counselling group called Java Mentorship.

The program received government funding several months ago and has been running at Echo Village. Volunteers undergo an educational mini-workshop prior to their mentoring shift, then they go visit seniors in their rooms at the facility.

“It was quite amazing how responsive they were,” volunteer Bob Watson said.

“I found most people opened up to us when they found out who we were,” said volunteer Bev Allan.

Linnea Hills said watching seniors find purpose is an important part of the program for her. “When you go in they’re kind of quiet, but when you leave they’ve opened up a bit.”

The objective of the program is to get people out of isolation and depression “and give them some life and purpose,” said Surjit Jhaj, director of programming and adult day services for both Echo Village and Fir Park Village.

READ: Peer mentoring gets gov’t boost at Fir Park Village

“Loneliness and social isolation are ongoing concerns in our long-term care community. Even though numerous social events are provided in our calendar, there are still vulnerable residents that refuse all invitations to attend programs and spend most of their time in their rooms.”

Lloyd Dool, who is a veteran, and Rob Toye have visited with other veterans at Echo Village. Dool said the veterans appreciate volunteers’ listening to their stories.

Java Mentorship is a researched intervention that was developed and evaluated with seniors, he explained. “We estimate that the program will involve an average of 80 seniors over the period of a year.”

In this mentoring program, volunteers from the community and residents (mentors) form a team that meets weekly. During these meetings they receive education and training on how to be a mentor. Examples include, what to do when they don’t talk much, or how to support someone grieving. They then review who is lonely and socially isolated in their room, e.g., who used to come to programs but has stopped, or who is just back from the hospital.

After the team meetings, which Deb Walton facilitates at Echo Village, they pair up and visit with those identified by the team (visitors).

“We try and match some of the history of each resident to these (volunteers) so they have somthing to talk about,” she said.

They build trusting relationships with those visited and invite them to join them in meaningful recreation programs where they can build close relationships, such as the peer support groups offered, Jhaj noted.

ALSO READ: Alberni Valley organizations with common goal form seniors’ sector

Mervyn Brooks, who attended the Java Mentorship lunch as Toye’s guest, sees the value of such a peer program for seniors. He helped interview more than 250 seniors in Port Alberni a number of years ago to find out what kind of programs and services are needed. This peer mentoring for seniors by seniors program was one result of the survey, he said.

“A common thread was people came from the prairies; people were lonely; they claim they have a lot of visitors, but they don’t.”

Jhaj hopes the program will also start soon at Fir Park Village.

The program is always looking for volunteers. Anyone who is available Tuesday mornings and who would like to mentor seniors can contact Surjit Jhaj at 250-724-6541 (Ext. 253) or by e-mail at

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