Senior Companions Helen and Erlinda: A Life of Service

Sisters Erlinda and Helen

For sisters Erlinda and Helen, service has always played an important part in their lives. For both women, home began in Manila in the Philippines. Erlinda, age 71 and the younger of the siblings, had an opportunity in 1983—at age 33—to emigrate to the United States. She’d been a seamstress in Manila and was able to continue to do that work when she emigrated to the U.S. Helen, age 74, wanted to relocate to the United States for years and finally was able to do so in 2013, some 30 years after her sister.

Growing up in Manila, Erlinda wanted to go to college and become a midwife, but her parents didn’t have the resources to send her to school. Her father assumed that since she knew how to read and write, she would not need additional schooling. However, Erlinda shared, “I really wanted to have a certificate, like I saw other of my siblings get.” Eventually, she was able to enroll in a program where she could get a Dress Making certificate, but she came up against many obstacles in the process.

“It was hard to complete the program because you needed to buy fabric for the ending project,” said Erlinda. “I told my teacher I wouldn’t be able to complete it because I couldn’t afford the fabric. My teacher offered to buy the fabric and have me make a dress for her as my final project. I was not only able to finish the project, but my teacher also paid me for the dress. I remember how it felt to have someone be so generous with me and it’s made me want to do the same for others.”

Helen’s path took her to college in Manila. Later, she worked for the government at a juvenile detention center and then for a social services department, caring for middle aged and older adults. She was finally able to get permission to live in the United States and has lived here since 2013, with an occasional trip back to Manila to see family and to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to visit her children.

Erlinda and Helen were both drawn to the idea of serving others, which is a key component of the AmeriCorps Senior Companion program at Homage. Senior Companion volunteers provide companionship and support to older homebound and isolated adults in King and Snohomish County.

Erlinda shared that the program appealed to her because she wanted to meet other people and she could also practice her English. Helen shared she wanted to be a Senior Companion volunteer because it would give her an opportunity to meet others and be of service. She noted that while she appreciates the stipend she receives through the program, there was a strong value of service in her family. Their philosophy: “The money you get is not yours. After you take care of your needs, you need to then help others who need help.

Erlinda went on to say, “We know how hard it is to not have money for food or clothes. We have had many blessings, including the chance to buy a house in the Philippines. It’s important to us to share our blessings with others. For us, helping others is a blessing.”

Even during COVID, Helen and Erlinda continue to serve. Helen makes calls and Zoom chats with clients. “Just last week,” she said, “I went with my 92-year-old client to see her doctor in West Seattle, which usually takes two hours to get there on the bus and then we do some shopping or go to the IDIC for events.” Erlinda also noted she has enjoyed talking to her clients on the phone, which helps them to feel less alone.

Helen said, “Serving others through the Senior Companion program is easy. You have fun, get to spend time with your clients, and get a lot of support about how to do the volunteering as well.”

Interested in learning more about how to serve in the Senior Companion Program? For information, call Homage at 425-355-1138, e-mail or visit the Senior Companion Program website.

Contributor Kate Gavigan is an AmeriCorps Seniors outreach specialist at Homage, a nonprofit organization in Snohomish County that, among many programs and services, coordinates volunteer programs in Snohomish and King Counties. See her article, “Foster Grandparents: Volunteering Can Enrich Your Life,” in the September 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.

This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of AgeWise King County.