By Tim Leeds
Some area senior citizens have spent the last 12 years donating their time helping others continue their independent living.
Floy Cannon, Fay Etchison and Margie Watkins started volunteering in the Senior Companion Program for the Visually Impaired in 1988. There were seven when they started, but they are the only people in the program right now.
The program, funded under the Rehabilitation Act, Chapter II and sponsored by Rocky Mountain Development Council, is intended to provide volunteer opportunities for fixed income seniors who provide supportive services to homebound, visually impaired seniors. The volunteers provide a little help to allow the homebound seniors maintain their independence and continue living at home.
"It makes it nice to get up and know you have something to do," Watkins said. "To help someone instead of staying at home. We've been very busy at this for years, enjoying every day."
Cannon said she really enjoys the work they do.
"I get up in the morning and feeling like I'm really doing something when I help somebody," she said.
The volunteers go into people's homes and residences in the Eagles Manor Retirement Apartments to help their clients. The services include providing companionship, reading mail and other printed material, writing letters and filling out forms, taking the client shopping or shopping for them, taking them to appointments and helping with baking, gardening and household tasks.
Jan Maroney, who has supervised the Senior Companion Program in Havre for about a year, said there are still people who would like to become clients of the program, but the three volunteers already have full schedules. Etchison and Watkins each help six clients, working four hours-a-day Monday through Friday. Cannon, who had a knee operation in December, is only working a half-shift right now. She said she plans to move back to full-time when her knee is more fully recovered.
To become a Senior Companion, the volunteer must be at least 60 years of age, be on a limited income and be willing to volunteer 20 hours each week. Since the program is designed to provide services for the visually impaired, it is preferred that the companion be able to drive and read printed material.
Cannon said that although the companions must be at least 60 years old, there is no upward limit on age. She said one companion in this district is 94 years old.
The companions receive a $2.55-an-hour tax-free stipend which does not jeopardize other entitlements; an annual physical exam; orientation, training and monthly inservice training; supervision; mileage reimbursement; accident insurance; vacation and sick pay, and paid holidays.
To find out how to become a client of the Senior Volunteer Program, contact Maroney at 263-1461.
For more information about becoming a Senior Companion volunteer, contact Cindy Baril, district director for the Senior Companion Program, (406) 447-1680, 1-800-356-6544 toll-free; P.O. Box 1717, Helena, MT 59624