“Every time I see one of the CVM volunteers arriving for their visits at our facility, I know that although they look like regular people, they are really angels in disguise.” -Valerie, Activities Director for Fountains at Carlotta

By Lisa Morgan

I found it ironic as I watched Bianca Rae, popular anchor for local news station CBS 2, talk about having to “focus” her heart for local charities, as she MC’d a portion of the Loving All Animals Super Adoption Event. Ironic because not only had I been given the privilege of writing about the Bianca Rae Foundation that focuses on providing a voice for the voiceless, both children and animals, but I had also, just that day, received an email from her about another valuable program here in the valley. I could easily relate to why her heart was pulled in many directions. Here was another group, sadly, as voiceless as neglected children and animals in many cases – our desert’s elderly.

Bianca Rae introduced me to Companion Visitation Ministry, an ecumenical charity that focuses on the emotional care and well-being of our local seniors. “Think of it as a ‘Big Brothers / Big Sisters’ program, but with the elderly,” she shared. “It’s a beautiful organization! Part of what they do is make fleece blankets (‘they’ being seniors) for the needy. They will be delivering several that they’ve made, and will be delivering them Thanksgiving morning to Martha’s Village. They also are delivering blankets to the Angel View Christmas party. I think this is an incredible group, and given our demographic of seniors, I think it is highly newsworthy.” I could not agree more.

I was put in touch with Chaplain Carol Zadel who shared how her heart was led into founding this organization. I found there was even more to this organization than providing a fun activity that instills a sense of purpose and worth in our seniors. “New Year’s morning was a pivotal moment for me during morning mass. Father Howard Lincoln, Pastor for Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert, had just delivered a powerful sermon about loneliness and the importance of family. He spoke of a recent visit to an assisted living facility during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The visit was to an elderly woman named Norma, who had spent the holiday lonely and feeling abandoned. While all of her neighbors in her wing of the building either had family celebrating Christmas with them, or were lovingly brought to their families homes, Norma was the only resident left alone. She had no visitors, no calls and no cards or gifts. (I thought)… what about the lonely senior citizens? These ‘forgotten citizens’ deserve our love, concern and time. There are literally thousands of senior citizens living in assisted living facilities with no family or friends,” Zadel continued passionately. “They are lonely….Period!”


The objective of this new ministry is to offer a senior citizen a friend that will visit them once a week for one year. “Friendship can change a person’s life. Good things happen when you have a friend. Friends listen. They share. Friends are the best kind of medicine for someone who’s striving for good mental health,” Zadel explained. “The birth of CVM has brought happiness to many senior citizens in the Coachella Valley. We began by asking for volunteers from our church to donate a minimum 1 hour a week and a commitment of one full year. Our next dream is of growing this ministry, in time, to other communities. This is an ecumenical ministry outreach to all faiths.”

“Our recruiting effort helped us gather over 100 willing volunteers to CVM. Our volunteers are now visiting lonely seniors that were gathered by contacting the local community activity directors who gave us lists of seniors who do not have family. After their initial introduction, our volunteer and their new become caring friends who offer love and support during good times and bad. At present we have 6 volunteer directors helping us establish this ministry. They also monitor input from our required ‘journals’ that we ask our volunteers to write and send to us after each visit. These journals have been a wealth of information that certainly details the success of CVM,” explained Zadel.

Some examples from volunteer journals:
“When I began my visits with my companion I had to earn her trust. She was unsure as to why I suddenly appeared in her life, and I could sense that she was apprehensive about my presence. In the beginning, when she cut our visits short, I wasn’t sure whether she did so because she didn’t welcome my visits or because she felt guilt over taking up my time. I soon found out it was the latter, and I had to find ways to show her that I was visiting her because I wanted to visit. In just two short months, our relationship has developed into one in which I not only provide companionship to her, but she provides companionship to me as well. My friend has become like family, and though I made a one year commitment to this ministry, my visits are no longer a commitment and have taken on the form of a lifelong friendship.” – Debbie Midcalf, CVM Director for Atria San Pablo and volunteer visitor for CVM

“My lady (Mildred) lifts my spirits every time I visit. It seems to be impossible to give without receiving more. ‘The art of love is God at work through you.’ I’m glad that I have God as my Director. Holding hands – Mildred and I hold hands a lot. It seems to calm her down. Wish I had known her earlier. Together we’d do the town. I’ll do what I can for her, and leave her in God’s care. But when she’s feeling down, it’s really hard to bear.” – Volunteer, Phyllis Plank (Note: Phyllis is visiting a lady with dementia)

“I began with CVM to be a comfort to another person as Christ would want us to. But I’ve found that I have gained more from the experience than I have given. Friendship and companionship is one of the greatest gifts one can offer.” – Pat Crowfoot, CVM Volunteer and Mission Hills Director

“I joined this ministry because I wanted to offer my time and charity to those lonely and less fortunate. In as much as I believe that this is my Christian duty, I must admit, I feel that I may be benefitting as much, if not more, than my new friends. We laugh together, we cry together, we talk and we tease. Their kindness, love and shared words of wisdom have enriched my life, and I treasure our new relationship as much as if I’d known them my entire life. I worry when I’m not with them. I look forward to my next visit, and I appreciate every moment that we share. This ministry is truly God’s gift, but I believe it’s been His gift to me as much as to them.” Robin Harmon, CVM Volunteer and Brighton Gardens and Manor Care Director

“Senior citizens offer a wealth of history and have stories to tell, shares Chaplain Zandel. “The lonely senior has no one to tell these stories to. Our CVM volunteers are now companions to a former Olympic swimmer, a well-known British actress, a highly decorated General who outlived his entire family, doctors, politicians and more. Our volunteers have now spent hours listening to wonderful stories of their lives that have enriched our minds, hearts and ears. Unfortunately, our volunteers are also visiting terminal cancer patients, Alzheimer and dementia patients. Although the prognosis of these seniors is grim, the bonds still form, and these seniors are getting the love, handholding and time they deserve.”

Most of the visits are at the assisted living facilities, and can include bingo, lunch, Bible study or reading. Some of the volunteers have brought their family members and well behaved pets for visits enriching their friendship. The mobile seniors also are now spending their birthdays and holidays meshed within the CVM volunteer’s family activities. In closing, Zandel shared, “With each hour spent with our new companions, our lives become richer, our smiles become wider, our history enriched. Our families have expanded to the one beloved, new friend that will last a lifetime.”

Sacred Heart is located at 43775 Deep Canyon Road, Palm Desert. For more information regarding volunteering or donating toward this wonderful ministry, call (760) 346-6502

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