Wanted: 'Silver Friends' for seniors

With Singapore's elderly population on the increase and more of them living alone and socially isolated, there is a greater need for volunteers to befriend and look after them.

The Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) has 2,000 "Silver Friends" and is looking to recruit 2,500 more.

They regularly visit elderly people on low incomes, check on their health and needs, remind them of medication and doctor appointments, and organise social activities.

The additional 2,500 volunteers will help Central CDC to aid 5,000 more vulnerable elderly people. Last year, 4,200 received help.

"Central Singapore has the highest number of seniors - we have about 366,000," said Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District. "Two-thirds of Singa-pore's rental flats are here and about 20,000 elderly are living in them. Many do not have family support and may be at risk of being socially isolated."

Ms Phua, also a Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC, launched the Silver Friends recruitment drive at a Chinese New Year celebration for needy elderly residents yesterday.

To bump up the number of volunteers, Central CDC intends to work with institutes of higher learning, schools, corporations, unions and grassroots organisations.

But it is not just numbers that concern the mayor. Ms Phua wants volunteers who can commit regularly and consistently.

"We're encouraging corporate partners to partner the CDC on a regular basis and not to serve on an ad-hoc basis, but to really adopt and befriend and look into the needs of these vulnerable groups," said Ms Phua.

"The way to significance in life is to serve and I guess that's what we are trying to get the volunteers to do."

Yesterday, 150 seniors from four SilverACE Senior Activity Centres gathered at Tanjong Pagar Community Club for an early Chinese New Year celebration organised by volunteers from the Singapore Management University's Rotaract Club and Team Young NTUC.

Among those in attendance was retiree Yong Wee Leok, 72, who welcomed having more Silver Friends in the district.

The former salesman told The Sunday Times that he lives alone in a rental flat in Jalan Bukit Merah and seldom heads out because a previous leg operation has made it hard for him to move around.

"I'll be happy to have regular visitors. I like it when the volunteers come because I'll have more people to talk to," he said in Mandarin. "It's boring being on my own."

This article was first published on Jan 31, 2016.
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