Purchase photos

Senior Companions celebrate 40th anniversary

8/6/2014

11Or if you were the 90-year-old lady or man who just sat at home, just waiting, waiting and hoping with a cold, bleak, empty feeling that just would not go away. And then the doorbell would ring and a voice call out. And the sun would come out and fill the room with sunshine that defies description.

11Or if you were the 90-year-old lady or man who just sat at home, just waiting, waiting and hoping with a cold, bleak, empty feeling that just would not go away. And then the doorbell would ring and a voice call out. And the sun would come out and fill the room with sunshine that defies description.

These are just my words, but I have heard those who truly experienced the above. This is what they said: "My Senior Companion was here."

Who are these ladies and gentlemen in golden vests? And what do they do -- and why do they take time and effort from their own lives to bring caring to others in need? Many of them also are aging with concerns of their own.

What a good deal. One frequent comment of older people is, "I want to be of service." And so this is a really beneficial arrangement for both the client and the Senior Companion. Not only is the companion's client benefitting from their visit, but light chores -- maybe a zipper pulled up in back of their garment, or a drive to the doctor -- are accomplished. Even more important is proof they are not alone and someone cares enough to be with them. It is not necessarily true that families are not able to do these chores. Many times, the family just cannot manage to meet all the needs of their aging family member.

Almost two weeks ago, the 40th anniversary of the FHSU Senior Companion Program had a banquet to recognize the contributions of the program. Sponsored by FHSU in 1974, Senior Companions truly have made a difference in the lives of many of our older and frailer citizens and their own.

FHSU President Mirta Martin wrote in her letter of congratulations: "Your commitment of time to this worthwhile program is admirable. You help fill a void for many who face limited mobility, health issues or other personal difficulties. The human connection is important to their overall well being."

Her welcome at the banquet further gave credence to her appreciation of this program.

The director of the Senior Corps in Washington, D.C., wrote: "the strength of our communities is determined by how we help our most vulnerable citizens. The service that Senior Companion projects provide positively affects thousands of lives. The friendship and interdependence between the client and the Senior Companion is the bridge that keeps both client and Senior Companion connected to the community, thus making that community stronger."

State Program Director Molly Turner of the Corporation for National and Community Service used Dorothy Day's comment, "We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world."

She then wrote: "Senior Companions may be confident that they reach not only the clients they serve, but also their caregivers, families, friends and the whole of our communities. Without this service, we would be a poorer nation, if not in means, certainly in character."

As complimentary as the above testamonials are, they pale in the positive comments of those who spoke about this vital service. I cannot do justice to the words of Anne Gustad Leiker, Ed Harbin, nor Howard Sloan, who spoke at the local event.

The Senior Companion program no longer receives the ACTION grant it initially received in its formation in 1974. Funding is now received in federal, state and local funding, which help the program itself, and also provides its volunteers with an hourly compensation of $2.65 per hour. Barton, Ellis, Ford, Gove, Graham, Hodgeman, Logan, Ness, Osborne, Pawnee, Phillips, Rooks, Rush, Russell and Trego are the 15 counties covered. Volunteers are able to help approximately 540 adults with various activities. Providing assistance with simple tasks, transportation to appointments, and monitoring medication are just a few.

"Our companions are willing to give their time, knowledge and experiences to help others who need a little help to remain independent. More than 120 senior volunteers, the Fort Hays program is serving hundreds of clients throughout northwest Kansas, providing assistance to those elders in need, at no cost ... Our companions want to make our community better, and they want to make the lives of those less fortunate better. Seniors helping seniors works ... it is incredibly successful  because these folks have a lot in common ... many life experiences, health,  family, aging, losses of all kinds -- they are empathetic and they sincerely  care about whom they serve," said Jolene Nienberger, program director.

Thank you, Senior Companions and staff, for what you do. We see the Golden Rule in action: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations advisory committee.

More Society News