John Slater, Director of Orcas Senior Center's Hearts and Hands and Buddy Check-In programs. Contributed photo

Buddies with Big Hearts

  • Sat Feb 13th, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Despite the pandemic forcing a suspension of the Orcas Senior Center’s Hearts and Hands program, the program’s director John Slater has found a way to continue meeting the needs of the island’s most vulnerable community – its seniors and disabled residents.

“When our Hearts and Hands’ home visits had to stop due to Covid restrictions, we felt we needed to find a way to check on those who would be most affected by the loss of in-home assistance and companionship,” explained Slater. “Our Buddy Check-in Program has taken up the slack and proven to be a well-received and much appreciated asset.”

Once it became apparent that the Hearts and Hands delivery model wasn’t going to work during Covid, Slater and a team from the center and the Orcas District Committee (that oversees the senior center’s maintenance and program offerings) searched for a way to continue serving the population’s needs while maintaining necessary pandemic-related restrictions. The Hearts and Hands Buddy Check-In Program fills that gap, and the response has been “incredibly well-received,” according to Slater.

The program pairs a volunteer with a person in the community who has indicated they’d like a weekly check-in. This weekly reachout helps a resident feel less isolated, and the volunteer acts as a conduit to community resources, and brings early awareness to potential problems.

Currently, Slater has a team of 30 volunteers serving 50 seniors on the island with weekly check-in phone calls. The response has been “overwhelmingly positive!”

“We have a consistent and incredibly dedicated group of volunteers,” he said.“There’s one volunteer who won’t even let a trip off island prevent her from making that weekly check-in call.”

Slater underscored the program is a two-way street.

“We’re finding the volunteer gets as much out of the connection as the person being called. In fact, several called to volunteer because they, too, were feeling the effects of isolation.”

Since it’s unclear when Hearts and Hands will resume its in-home visits, the Buddy Check-In will continue providing opportunities for safe social interactions and, according to Slater, “more wonderful connections.”

For more information, call John Slater at 360-919-9318 or email

For more information on the Orcas Senior Center, visit