Volunteers are the heart of the program.  It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.  Without volunteers, there is no program.  With volunteers who invest not only their time and talents, but also their hearts, this ministry will flourish and send ripples of loving care into your community.

Volunteers are the heart of the program

Are there caring people in your congregation who:

  • Are available during the day?
  • Can make a substantial ongoing commitment? 
  • Have, among them, talents for leadership in coordination, hospitality, fellowship, bible study, games, creative arts and crafts, music?
  • Have a heart for sharing God’s love and valuing each person as a loved child of God?
  • Are open-minded, patient, and accepting?
  • Have had personal experience with dementia?
  • Are seeking fellowship and purpose?

Keep in mind that an ongoing commitment does not preclude flexibility, and certainly accommodates time away.  For example, many people travel to warmer climates in the winter, or take extended vacations.  Others may wish to participate in alternating weeks, or may be able to come for parts of the day.  Being flexible allows more people to be involved in the ministry, and accommodating volunteers’ personal schedules helps enable them to continue as volunteers in the long term.  Time away is very important and is encouraged so that volunteers don’t burn out.

While there could be a great deal of variation in how volunteer roles are structured, they fall into  four main categories:

  1. Companions
  2. Activity Leaders
  3. Hospitality
  4. Set-up/Take-down


Companions are patient, kind, vigilant, and sensitive people who can be a friend to a person living with symptoms of dementia, and walk alongside them at the Side by Side Program so that the care partner can enjoy a respite time with confidence.  Each companion has primary responsibility for one participant, but all companions work together as a team to ensure that participants are supported.  Companions generally attend weekly, and stay for the duration of the program.  If this commitment level is not workable, arrangements could be made to allow two companions to alternate either within a given day (morning/afternoon) or between weeks.  Some may choose to be a backup companion who fills in when a regular companion is away.

Activity Leaders

Activity Leaders are capable, organized and confident people who can lead the group in a particular activity.  You may have one person leading the same activity each week, or you may have a roster of different people taking turns leading.  Activity leaders can come and go throughout the day and may choose to attend only for the time that they are leading their activity.  Their gifts and abilities will differ depending on the activity that they lead.  Leaders will be needed for each of these activities:

Brain Gym® – this is a special type of exercise that requires coordination of movements that involve both sides of the brain.  You can hire a specially-qualified instructor to lead this activity, or have a volunteer learn about it from an instructor or from various internet sources.

Bible Study/Devotion – a retired minister may enjoy this opportunity to lead this time of spiritual nurture by sharing a brief meditation that provides food for thought, encouragement, and reassurance. 

Seated Exercise – this is a gentle form of exercise that encourages movement of joints and improves flexibility with gentle stretches.  It can be led by anyone who is knowledgeable of how to do these exercises safely and is able to explain the exercises clearly to others.

Creative Time – requires someone who is creative and organized and willing to spend time planning, testing, organizing and leading art or craft activities that are easy and fun.  It’s critical that the activities feel like something that an adult would do.  It’s very important for the dignity of the participant that the craft not be too challenging, but it is equally important that it not be too simple and feel like something a child would be given to do.

Music Therapy – it would be ideal to have a retired music therapist who is willing to volunteer, but that is quite unlikely.  A registered music therapist will probably be needed to lead this activity.  You can keep costs down by having music therapy on alternate weeks.

Games – these are more active games like Bocce Ball, ball toss, or mini-golf.  Anyone who enjoys games can lead this.

Sing-along time – Volunteers are needed to lead the sing-along time.  One person to select the hymns/songs and lead the singing, and another to play the piano.

Additionally, if a companion is leading an activity, then provision should be made for other companions, or the program coordinator, to fill in during the group activity to ensure that the activity leader’s participant is supported.

Hospitality Team

Hospitality volunteers have gifts for hospitality and hosting, and know their way around the kitchen. Baking is a way that people can contribute to the program even if they are not able to attend.  Bakers are needed to bake muffins for the morning refreshment time or cookies for the afternoon refreshment time

Refreshment hosts make tea or coffee, arrange items on trays for serving, clear tables, and wash dishes. You will also need a “lunch chef” to plan, prepare and help serve a simple, nutritious meal for all who are attending the program, while taking into account any allergies or special dietary requests that need to be accommodated.

Photo: Waymore Webs Photography


This volunteer role involves setting up the room for the day and then returning it to its regular state at the end of the day.  Set-up and take-down may be shared by everyone who attends, including participants, or you may have specific people who come in and set up tables and chairs at the beginning of the day, and/or take them down again and put them away at the end of the day. 

Multiple Roles

Many volunteers are flexible and willing to help out in different ways.  For example, a companion whose participant is away may still attend on the day and help out with hospitality or with an activity.  While flexibility is helpful and valued, a general rule is recommended that any one volunteer does not have responsibility for more than two roles on a given day.  For example, if a volunteer is acting as a companion as well as an activity leader, they should not also be involved in hosting refreshment times.  If a volunteer is helping with lunch and leading a group activity, they should not be acting as a companion.

Leading With Care

Since people living with dementia are vulnerable adults, it is important to ensure that a climate of safety is in place. The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Leading with Care policy sets out guidelines for ensuring the safety of “children, youth, and vulnerable adults who participate in the denomination’s programs/ministries and/or use the denomination’s facilities” and that all will be “cared for with Christian compassion.” If your congregation is part of a different denomination, there is likely an applicable policy that you can access for guidance.

God is weaving a tapestry of care
that connects all of us in Grace.
Come. Be part of it.

© sidebyside.care 2020