Making the Senior Connection

Photo | Phil Fabrizio

Washingtonian Woods resident Helen Hanes volunteers for Senior Connection by providing driving assistant to seniors in Montgomery County.

Every day, volunteers for Senior Connection, a local nonprofit, help drive the elderly who are need of transport and other assistance to doctors’ appointments, therapy visits, and even grocery trips throughout Montgomery County.

Senior Connection was founded when the Seniors’ Interfaith Resource Center (SIRC) and the Allied Silver Spring Interfaith Services for Seniors Today (ASSISST) merged in 2003. The new organization, which is a member of the National Volunteer Caregiving Network, now provides even more free and reliable services to older adults with limited mobility and those below the poverty line to help them remain independent members of the community.

Washingtonian Woods resident Helen Hanes began volunteering for Senior Connection in 2012. Hanes, like many of the organization’s volunteers, is herself a retired older adult.

“I heard about [Senior Connection] because I belong to the same church that the founder belongs to,” said Hanes. “But it used to operate only in Silver Spring, which is too far. … [When] I heard it was expanding to Gaithersburg and Germantown, [I was able to] get involved.”

Hanes volunteers as a driver, usually for trips to the doctor or therapy, up to several times a week based on her month or a week’s schedule, which she provides ahead of time to Senior Connection. “I am a very busy retired lady with other joys and obligations, so I try to tell them my availability [as soon as possible],” said Hanes.

Hanes said the greatest reward for volunteering with Senior Connection is “all the nice people you drive. Not a dud among them,” she added with a chuckle. “Most live alone or with a family member [who] works all day. It’s the perfect arrangement for me, too. They like to talk, and I [also] like to share, so it works out well.”

Despite her own age, Hanes started volunteering because she was happy to help others get around during the day and she said she knew others would do the same for her. “I’m getting on in years now [myself], so I have started asking others to drive me at night. So I am glad to help people in ways that I can.”

Tonya Bernstein, who also lives in Washingtonian Woods and has been driven by Hanes in the past, called Senior Connection “an amazing, fantastic service.” Bernstein first sought help from Senior Connection this past Christmas season when she began needing a lot of physical therapy, as well as some doctors’ visits, and her husband couldn’t always drive her.

“It’s perfect because it takes care of so many things in such a simple way,” Bernstein said. “The people who drive are always on time, the cars are very clean, and [the drivers are] so nice — everyone is so kind.”

Bernstein first heard of Senior Connection’s services through the Jewish Social Service Agency. “At the time I was seeing so many doctors,” she explained. Bernstein emphasized that she is completely pleased with the free help she has received thus far. “The people are amazing, and it’s so convenient! … I think it’s just phenomenal.”

Lily Ahmed, another area resident who receives services from Senior Connection, echoed Bernstein’s sentiment. “[Senior Connection] has been very good. I am happy to have this service for me,” she said.

Carolyn Moore lives on Muddy Branch Road just across from Washingtonian Woods and has volunteered for Senior Connection for about three years. She provides medical transport as well as grocery shopping help on a regular basis. “I have one lady who is 97 years old and can’t drive, but when we get to the store she zip, zip, zips along the aisles, getting around so nimbly,” Moore laughed .

In addition to her driving services, Moore, who is also retired, is able to spend at least one day a week in the Senior Connection office. She does everything from answering calls to client intakes to data entry, even vacuuming. “If people call [from out of the service area] and we can’t assist them, we can at least [send] them in the right direction,” said Moore. She added that she is available and volunteers her driving when she is called about a need in Gaithersburg or Germantown, and sometimes even goes farther afield, to places like the National Institutes of Health.

Moore said she first heard about the volunteer opportunity at Senior Connection from the Washington Post’s community calendar. “And in these past years, I’ve met some very nice people. Gracious care-receivers,” she said.

When asked why she chooses to volunteer for the elderly when she herself is of retiring age, Moore replied that she “has a sense of feeling that I should thank God for being able to help others instead of being in a situation where I don’t have the money or mobility and I am the one who needs help. It’s just by the grace of God, and that’s why I do it.”

To volunteer for Senior Connection or for more information call Marcia Custer at 301.962.0820 x14, or