St. John’s Alum heads a program that reaches out to the vulnerable

Currently in its third year of operation, The Northeast Queens Friendly Visiting Program now serves over 1,000 homebound senior citizens in a variety of communities such as Flushing, Bayside, Little Neck, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, and other neighborhoods. Chris Schneider, the program manager and St. John’s graduate of the class of 1968, single-handedly coordinates its every aspect, from posting fliers in high schools and across campuses to stir up interest in the program, to dealing directly with its participants.
“I’ve always felt that the most vulnerable people in society are senior citizens,” said Schneider. “I’ve always had a fondness for these individuals who are often overlooked, and this program truly impacts their lives”.

Created in 2005 to assist and support the elderly residents of Northeast Queens, the program’s mission is achieved through the contribution of volunteers, from all age groups, who offer the most valuable gift they can possibly give-their time. The volunteers travel to the seniors’ homes and lend a helping hand in completing tasks that may be difficult for them to carry out on their own, such as grocery shopping, light chores, or transportation to and from church and other destinations. Also, the volunteers may provide something as simple as friendly conversation, which may be the only dialogue these seniors engage in all week.

“Sometimes a knock on the door is all that’s needed to boost their spirits,” said Schneider. “Most of them have lost their spouse, have children that live out-of-state and they get very lonely. Chatting makes their entire day…or week for that matter”.

The Northeast Queens Friendly Visiting Program is sponsored by Builders for the Family and Youth, an extension of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, and funded by City Meals-on-Wheels. The Visiting Program’s headquarters is located at St. Kevin’s Church, where Schneider works alongside the eleven case managers of Meals-on Wheels, all of which have about 90 clients. Most seniors who receive these meals also participate in the Visiting Program, therefore establishing a ready-made foundation of clientele already requiring assistance.

Despite the high demand for help and the positive and uplifting nature of the program, Schneider admits that the task of recruiting volunteers can be both taxing and problematic.

“My wish is that more professors at St. John’s could make community service part of their curriculum,” said Schneider. “Twice a year St. John’s invites me to an open house, where I set up a table and am able to promote the program, but we haven’t been able to rally enough students for all the seniors in need”.

Commonly referred to as “Chris’ Angels” among the seniors, visitors donate at least an hour a week of their time, and in exchange, they receive the gratification of knowing they were able to offer a ray of hope to someone who may have lost their own.

Schneider’s dedication to this cause is both unrelenting and, according to him, somewhat involuntary.

“I always have to give that extra mile to his effort…it just comes naturally to me”, said Schneider. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience to see how grateful they are, and the volunteers feel the same way.”

Always mindful of finding compatible matches between client and volunteer, he keeps tape and a stapler on his person at all times, in the event that he comes across an opportunity to post fliers. And what recommendation does he offer to students that may be apprehensive about jumping on board?

“Come join us. Try it out for a couple of weeks– no long-term commitment”, said Schneider. “I sincerely believe, though, that once you see the smile on a senior’s face, you’ll be hooked.”

For more information on the Northeast Queens Friendly Visiting Program, contact Chris Schneider at 718-357-4903.