Family Service’s Senior Peer Counseling program seeks volunteers & clients


By on Wed, August 26, 2009

Family Service Agency of San Mateo County, a nonprofit that provides life-changing skills and resources to children, families and older adults in need, has received a one-year, $283,140 contract renewal from San Mateo County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Division to continue its Senior Peer Counseling Program for county adults age 55-plus through June 30, 2010. Funded through the Mental Health Services Act, the Senior Peer Counseling Program trains volunteers to provide free one-on-one and group peer counseling to older adults in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and to the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community. Coinciding with the contract renewal announcement are Family Service’s plans for an orientation on September 14th and a training session on September 29th for county residents interested in volunteering as senior peer counselors.

Regarding the Senior Peer Counseling contract renewal, Susan Houston, director of older adult services at Family Service remarked, "Today’s volatile economic climate has posed tremendous life challenges for older adults. Nonetheless, over the past year of spearheading this program, Family Service has made significant strides helping to improve the ability of ethnically and culturally diverse older adults in San Mateo County to enjoy the highest possible quality of life." She added, "We’re grateful for the opportunity the county has given us to continue our vital work, which ultimately benefits our community as a whole."

Administered under Family Service’s Senior Services Program, the Senior Peer Counseling Program is managed by Program Manager Howard Lader, LCSW, and offers free peer counseling to older adults age 55-plus in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Tagalog. The program also serves the LGBT community, and recently hired Ellyn Bloomfield as its LGBT coordinator. Based on principles of self-help and mutual aid, the Senior Peer Counseling Program seeks to develop a bond of trust between people of similar age, experience, values, wisdom, and culture.

Family Service is seeking volunteers age 55-plus who are caring individuals fluent in the aforementioned languages to serve as senior peer counselors for the program. Volunteers should live in San Mateo County and have access to a reliable car. There is great demand for volunteers to serve the LGBT community, including those with the flexibility to serve clients at locations throughout the county—particularly Belmont, San Bruno and San Carlos. To volunteer, please contact Geri Lustenberg at 650-403-4300, x4389 or [email protected].

An orientation will be held on September 14th from 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. at Family Service’s headquarters at 24 Second Avenue, San Mateo to provide general information to anyone interested in volunteering as a senior peer counselor. Following the orientation, a nine-week training session in English will begin on September 29th from 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at the same location. The 54-hour training program will emphasize listening skills and development, and will include topics such as: basic counseling skills; self-awareness; substance abuse; understanding depression; building effective communication; sexuality; family systems; and county resources. Senior peer counselors will be asked to give a one year commitment and typically will meet with clients one hour per week at a mutually agreeable location. To further their development, peer counselors will attend bi-weekly consultation meetings with a licensed supervisor and periodic in-service training sessions at Family Service.

Family Service is also seeking clients to benefit from the Senior Peer Counseling Program. To qualify to receive free counseling, older adults must reside in San Mateo County and be 55 years or older. Those seeking counseling may call the same number listed above. Clients hailing from the LGBT community are particularly encouraged to contact the organization. Family Service currently serves 264 clients through the program and aims to serve at least 50 additional older adults by June 30, 2010. In total, 80 senior peer counselors presently volunteer for the program and approximately 36more are needed. 

Located in San Mateo, CA, Family Service Agency of San Mateo County is a private nonprofit organization that for 59 years has helped children, families and older adults build positive and productive lives through the provision of programs and services including: child development and education; supervised family visitation/exchange; older worker employment and training; support services for the frail elderly; and family loans. For more information on Family Service, please call 650-403-4300 or visit