Friends Across the Ages
Starter Manual:
How to Start a One-to-One Nursing Home
Volunteer Program in Your Community

By Steve and Allison Blay, Directors
Friends Across the Ages Nursing Home Outreach, Gainesville, Florida
and approved by the Friends Across the Ages Board of Directors


We are offering this manual to anyone who may be interested in starting a program like ours in their own community, or anyone who may be interested in learning more about how Friends works. We want to share what we have learned, in the hope that it might make it easier for those who might like to try something similar. We are not experts—far from it; everything we have learned is through trial and error, and we are still learning, growing, evolving, adapting, each day, week, month, and year. This manual represents what we have learned up to this point; we plan to revise it from time to time as we continue to learn more. We also hope that each of you will share with us whatever wisdom you may have in this area, and whatever you may learn from your own experiences of trial and error. Toward the end of this manual you will find a feedback form inviting you to do just that. Future editions will reflect these comments, in addition to whatever else we may learn from our own experiences.

In light of that, please consider this to be a conversation starter. We hope that you will dialogue with us about how best to reach out to nursing home residents in need of friendship and companionship, and we hope that you will dialogue with those around you as well, to figure out what will work best in your own particular situation. Some of the things we suggest may work well for you; some certainly will not. Please take the ideas in this manual as suggestions only, and adapt things as you see fit.

We have been told over and over again by people from other communities that they wish there were programs like Friends Across the Ages in their area. Our dream is that this manual may help others to take the initiative and start other programs like ours in their communities, so that more and more volunteers and residents can benefit from the relationships formed when one is a “Friend Across the Ages.” A study we found on says that as many as 60% of nursing home residents never receive a visitor. While we are not certain if this statistic is accurate, what we are sure of is that we have met many nursing home residents who are very lonely, and who have much to offer anyone who will share their time and their love with them.

If you want to start a program like ours and would like to use the name “Friends Across the Ages”, we will ask you to agree to just a few things (see chapter two). You will find instructions there on how to proceed if you would like to become part of our network of Friends Across the Ages programs. However, if you do not want to be part of our network, you are still free to pick and choose from the suggestions we offer here, and we encourage you to share with us whatever suggestions and insights you may have to offer along these lines.

Do not let the length of this manual overwhelm you. We want to make things as simple as possible for those who may be in the very beginning stages of getting a program started in their area. The general outline is this:

  1. Chapter one describes the background of Friends Across the Ages – how we got started.
  2. Chapter two lays out our organization’s guiding principles.
  3. Chapter three will give you suggestions to assist you in starting your own Friends-type organization.
  4. Chapter four will give you tips to help you once you have started your organization and are in the process of fleshing it out and building it up.
  5. Chapter five contains final words of advice and encouragement.

Finally, in the appendices you will find many resources that we hope will come in handy. If you are in a hurry, you can just read chapters two and three to learn what you need to know to get started, and then turn to the other chapters as the need arises. Also, you will find our contact information at the back of this manual, so please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns that surface as you go along. We cannot promise to have all the answers, but we will do what we can to help.

So, happy reading! Thank you for your interest in our program, and thank you for your interest in helping those in your community who may be in need of a “Friend Across the Ages.”

Download the Starter Manual (PDF, 1.85 MB)