Volunteers help seniors live independently in the St. Paul Midway neighborhood


Jo Ann Olsen said volunteering for Hamline Midway Elders was her husband’s final request before he died.

“When my husband was dying, he says to me: ‘One of the things I want you to do, when you have everything settled, I want you to go to the Hamline Midway Elders,’” Olsen said. “And that’s how I started volunteering here, and I’m glad that I did it.”

Part of the Living At Home Network and based in Hamline Methodist Church in St. Paul, Hamline Midway Elders was founded in 2001 with the mission of providing services to help seniors live independently in their own homes.

This organization is small — a two-person staff, Service and Volunteer Director Monica Gallagher and Program Director Tom Fitzpatrick — and uses 40 to 50 volunteers. Volunteers include people 40 to 60 years of age living in the community as well as college students, including students from nearby Hamline University. (Hamline’s students provide more than volunteer time: one class organized a fundraiser, presenting Fitzpatrick with a check for $1,345 in donations at a conference last month.)

Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them. It is made possible by sponsorship support from The Minneapolis Foundation. Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundation.

“I really like the concept of our program because we’re pretty low-budget,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our budget this year is $81,000 and some change. We have two part-time staff and yet we impact. Like last year, we impacted over 200 seniors.”

The organization provides a variety of services to older residents living in St. Paul’s Midway area, ranging from volunteers hauling groceries to walking dogs for seniors.

“A lot of times that’s the difference between a senior being able to live on her own or his own — just the ability to take care of the normal household-management stuff,” Fitzpatrick said.

Jo Ann Olsen’s husband, Leonard, decided to volunteer for Hamline Midway Elders after reading about the organization in the neighborhood newspaper. “He really enjoyed it,” Jo Ann Olsen said of her husband’s volunteer work.

After her husband died in 2008, Olsen began volunteering as well, providing rides for seniors and attending monthly luncheons as a greeter. She also participates in the organization’s exercise program.

Olsen has been an active volunteer for nearly six years, and she says what keeps her coming back is the “camaraderie” she’s formed with the people she’s met through her volunteer work.

“Being a widow now, this has been great for me; it’s kind of like a support group,” Olsen said. “I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for here.”

One of those Olsen has become close friends with is a 105-year-old woman who lives nearby. Olsen said they had been long-time neighbors, but it wasn’t until she started volunteering at Hamline Midway Elders that she got to know her neighbor well.

Olsen’s neighbor takes medication that requires a monthly blood check. Olsen not only drives her friend to the doctor’s office each month, but she also accompanies her during checkups to provide support.

“The support of our program and programs like ours really make a difference in the lives of seniors,” Fitzpatrick said. “It allows seniors to stay living where they want to live for as long as possible.”

Fitzpatrick noted that as Baby Boomers age, the Midway community is changing. “It seems that we’re serving more seniors, so the number of seniors wanting our help increases, I think the variety of things we do is increasing — the number of rides, the numbers of events that we’re sponsoring,” he said.