By Kurt Dusterberg
Photo by Davies Photography
Lynn Templeton isn’t one to call attention to herself, and she certainly doesn’t want people to think the work she does makes her remarkable. But as the executive director at the Center for Volunteer Caregiving in Cary, Templeton is a true advocate for the senior population in Wake County. With a background in special education, she eventually began working with the elderly. In twelve years on the job at the CVC, she has increased funding for the non-profit and drawn hundreds of volunteers to help those in need.
CL: Let’s start with where you are from and how you got started with this kind of work.
Templeton: I am from Whitakers, North Carolina, near Rocky Mount. In high school I got to help a lot in classes because it was a small school. I helped out in special ed classes. Then when I was in college at UNC-Greensboro, I volunteered at the cerebral palsy school in Greensboro. I walked in there and there were young children laying out on skateboards, skating all over the halls, using their arms to pull them through. Kids who couldn’t walk were getting around on skateboards. It showed such spirit. Once I transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, I volunteered at the Murdoch Developmental Center, which was one of our state institutions for people with developmental disabilities.
It seems like it takes someone with a lot of heart and compassion to make a commitment to that type of work.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “It takes a special person to work with older adults or people who have developmental disabilities.” My theory on that: exposure. If you have empathy and caring, you just need to be exposed to that. I’m not sure if it was a special calling, or if I was just exposed to that at an early age.
You were the associate director of the Council for Senior Citizens in Durham before your current job. You must also have a soft spot in your heart for the aging population.
That was my first job in aging. It was located in senior housing, and there were congregate meals there. I had more actual clients. I could leave my desk and I could go out and visit with the clients. It just felt like a natural fit.
What should people know about the elderly and the challenges they face?
I think older adults want to be as independent as possible and able to live in their homes as long as possible. I think they need encouragement to overcome the fear that they can’t do it. They also face social isolation, so it is easy to say, I can’t do this anymore. Facing social isolation and losses in their lives, they need encouragement to see there are still things they can look forward to and things they can give. We want some emphasis on treating this generation with the dignity and respect they deserve.
How do you go about finding and matching up volunteers with people in need?
We have online and on-site orientation, and in the past five years, 30 to 40 percent of people are finding us through the internet – just Googling “volunteering in Wake County.” What we try to do is offer more options to get them engaged. We can talk to you about some of the people on the waitlist and who might be a good match. Once they train, they can look online at a list that says, for example, here’s an 80-year-old woman who lives in Garner who needs help with grocery shopping. We’re trying to get volunteers a little more involved in making their own match.
Can you typically find people in the specific communities you serve?
There are people in the system that it is harder to get a match for. They may live out in Willow Spring, but their needs are great. We love a volunteer who says they’re willing to help where they’re needed. We’re based in Cary, but we’re trying our best to serve all of Wake County, so we’re hoping to find people who are willing to drive out of their area.
Explain the ways the volunteers engage the senior citizens to meet their needs.
We do volunteer transportation primarily for basic needs, mostly medical transportation to routine doctor visits. It’s for those who don’t have family around, who can’t use public transportation. We have started taking more people to the VA hospital. If they can get around on public transportation, it gives them a sense of independence, and it’s saving our volunteers. We do receive all of the National Family Caregiver Support Program funding for Wake County. We’re also matching volunteers with family members who are taking care of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. That caregiver needs a break – respite. They need to tend to their own medical needs or time away from that 24-hour job of taking care of their family member with dementia.
What else can volunteers do beyond providing transportation?
Light housekeeping, yard work – those sorts of things are focused on keeping the environment as safe as possible. One of my pet phrases is “Everybody wants a housekeeper; I want a housekeeper.” [She laughs.] We have to be careful that we’re not just out there doing housekeeping. It’s for those who don’t have anyone to help with changing the bed sheets, or to de-clutter to keep things safe.
What kind of feedback do you get from the volunteers?
I think once you get the right match, those people develop a relationship. They say things like, “These are the kinds of things I did with my grandmother.” It’s very rewarding for those who get involved, to see the need and start developing that relationship. In the end, I think that’s what makes people stay.
This is the Center’s 25th anniversary, and you’ve been the director for 12 years. What have been your most important accomplishments?
In 2013, we were awarded the GSK Community Impact Award. That was for our part in creating healthy communities. It was a turning point in our ability to leverage some other funding and awareness of the Center. We’ve doubled our budget, and we need to double it again.
What are the primary financial needs of the Center?
We have no program-generated revenue. There are no fees for service. Quite frankly, we need money for the staff to keep it going. It is staff that is doing the recruiting of the volunteers. There are administrative costs to recruit, train, and match volunteers. We get government and Town of Cary funding and some individual donors. We’re fortunate we get some foundation funding. We also have some funding that covers mileage reimbursement. We hope it will at least be incentive for those who will take longer rides. It’s not a huge percentage of our volunteers that collect it, but it’s important that it’s an option.
Let’s talk about your life outside of work. I imagine you make time for family.
I have three adult children, and they all live out of state, so I understand having no family nearby. They’re in New York, Alabama, and Greenville, SC I don’t see them a lot. When I retire, I look forward to spending more time with them. But they’re all doing well, and I have five grandchildren.
What interests do you have when your work day is done?
I’m a huge UNC basketball fan, but it’s mostly from my living room at this point. I have attended some national championships, so I follow a lot of it. I garden, I read. I belong to the Duke Center for Living.
It seems like service to your community is a primary focus in your life.
People ask, “What are you going to do when you retire?” And I say, “I really don’t know yet.” I feel like this will just evolve into some form of what I’m doing now.