Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. We need to raise $60,000 to host journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Volunteer Spotlight: Program pairs veterans with veterans for veteran hangouts

  • Gordon Best, of Windsor, and Harry Jorgensen, of Woodstock, go out to eat earlier this month as part of Senior Solutions' Vet to Vet Program, which pairs veterans together to provide companionship. (Susan Triplett photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2022 9:57:19 PM
Modified: 6/30/2022 10:56:23 AM

A couple times a week, Harry Jorgensen and Gordon Best connect for lunch, a visit or chat on the phone.

Sometimes they go for a drive through the hills of Barnard. Other times, they meet for a cup of coffee at Jorgensen’s Woodstock home.

“It’s been a great bond and a good opportunity for both of us, I think, to fill out days and times with sharing each other’s company,” said Best, of Windsor.

The pair became close after being matched through the Vet to Vet Program, which was started by Senior Solutions in an effort to provide companionship to area veterans.

The program runs through the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont, which has long focused on supporting older adults experiencing loneliness by pairing them with volunteer visitors.

Vet to Vet is the first of its programs to target veterans specifically throughout its coverage area of Windsor and Windham counties.

For Jorgensen, who is 94 and a widower, mealtimes could feel particularly isolated.

Sometimes, he said, he’d sit at his kitchen table, “wondering, ‘Geez, there must be a different way of doing things.’

“When this thing came along and somebody asked me what I thought of it, I sat back and thought of it for five minutes and said, ‘That’s what’s missing in my life, I think,” he recalled.

The program, which currently has eight pairs, got its start in Brattleboro and has slowly been expanding northward into the Upper Valley. There are currently 11 veterans waiting to be paired with veteran volunteers, said Susan Triplett, Vet to Vet coordinator.

The program targets veterans who are aging in place in their homes. While other volunteer companionship programs are available to them, the Vet to Vet program builds on unspoken bonds that already exist between veterans, even if they’ve never met, she said.

“A lot of it is that camaraderie. They all served together — what they say they ‘strapped up boots together’ — so they have that connection already,” said Triplett, an Air Force veteran who lives in Wilder. “They have that buddy system that you learned in basic training, so this program kind of piggybacks on that where you don’t leave anybody behind.”

Jorgensen served in the Marine Corps from 1946 to 1949. He was stationed in Cherry Point, N.C., and stayed stateside for his service. Best also served stateside, in the Army Reserve from 1960 to 1968.

The two first met in 2006, when Best worked on a renovation project at Jorgensen’s home. They became friends, but lost touch over the years.

“It was like turning up roses,” Jorgensen said about being matched with Best.

Though their shared military service connects them, they don’t often exchange stories from that era of their lives. Instead, they talk more about life in the Upper Valley and the communities they’ve called home for decades.

“I just thought it would be a good thing,” Best, who is also a widower, said of his decision to volunteer for the program. “I realized there are a lot of vets out there; some of them are hesitant to get involved.”

That’s common among veterans, Triplett said. Some are reluctant to ask for help or services because they think others need them more.

Establishing a connection through Vet to Vet has made it easier for some veterans to apply for services or assistance that they are entitled to because they have trusted individual to help guide them.

The biggest challenge has been recruiting volunteers, particularly in the Upper Valley, Triplett said. Any veteran who served in any branch in any era can volunteer, regardless of whether they deployed or not. Those who sign up for the program are asked if they want to be paired with a veteran volunteer who served during a particular time period, but most don’t have a preference.

“We were all in, we all served,” Triplett said, adding that the same goes for male and female volunteers. “Absolutely, that’s our sister in arms, that’s our brother in arms.”

While there is no time requirement, veteran volunteers are asked to commit to an hour a week to spend with their veteran pair. Triplett tries to pair people based on geography. Even though Senior Solutions covers Windsor and Windham counties, volunteers can be from anywhere in Vermont or neighboring New Hampshire.

“We really make sure it’s going to be someone who will work well together and that their availability will match up as well,” Triplett said. What the pair does is up to them.

Triplett would also like to recruit younger veterans. Currently, the program’s youngest volunteer is in his mid-50s. She is also thinking about starting a phone tree so veterans can call one another and check in.

“I think there’s a hell of a lot of people out there in the same situation I was in,” Jorgensen said. “They helped me really, they did. I’d be lost without it, and Gordon too.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Vet to Vet program or to volunteer, contact Susan Triplett at striplett@seniorsoultionsvt.org or 802-376-0037.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy