Senior Stories

Russ: Filling the empty spaces in longing hearts

by Karen Kitchel

A fact that surprises many people is that elders in senior living communities can still feel isolated and lonely. Russ Gutsche, Service Coordinator for Booth Manor in downtown Minneapolis, understands this. He often refers residents to Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly who he thinks could benefit from companionship through the Visiting Volunteers program. This is an important aspect of his role to help people age in place successfully – a role that he clearly enjoys! While providing a wide variety of resources for needs – from food assistance to transportation support – to the 156 seniors who live at Booth Manor, Russ also offers helpful ideas on such topics as reducing clutter. Perhaps equally as important, he maintains a full coffee pot in his office for residents who just want to stop by to chat, and he makes a point of visiting the activity room every day to ensure he stays in close contact with all residents.

Russ delights in seeing the excitement on the faces of the elders when they realize they have a good friend in an LBFE Visiting Volunteer. While he consistently promotes the program, often residents hear about it from others who like to share stories about their fun experiences. “Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly makes my job easier,” says Russ, “because I want everyone at Booth Manor to thrive. Seeing them happy and healthy for as long as possible is my goal.”

In many cases, matches are made between folks who have common interests and backgrounds or simply appreciate a friendly visitor. For example, Alexander is a Russian who became a U.S. citizen in the past year, and he is anxious to learn more about our country. Another elderly resident, Matthew, is a Vietnam veteran and previously was an artist who proudly displayed some of his art pieces in his apartment.

When Russ hears elders talking about loneliness or he notices someone has never had a visitor, that’s a sign for him to encourage a match. Visiting Volunteers are also another set of eyes into what’s happening in the world of the elders. A volunteer might notice how a senior exhibits a decreased appetite or suddenly rejects opportunities that they previously enjoyed. That’s when Russ can step in with additional resources.

Russ describes LBFE’s Visiting Volunteer program as “a solution to the issue of loneliness that can save our state and nation billions of dollars by reducing high-cost health expenses.” Every day 10,000 people reach age 65, which means there is a growing need for creating happiness and reducing the loneliness of our elder population.

Russ believes that “a friend can fill the empty space in a longing heart.” Thanks to Russ, more hearts are full at Booth Manor.