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Volunteer Spotlight - Debbie & Lupe: Making A Difference
0525 Sr Outreach
Senior Outreach volunteers Debbie Hampton and Lupe Aguilera. Each is also a CAPS (Citizens Auxiliary Police Services) member within the Oakdale Police Department and they have been volunteering for Senior Outreach for many years. - photo by Kim Van Meter/The Leader
For Lupe Aguilera and Debbie Hampton, Citizen Auxiliary Police Services (CAPS) members and Senior Outreach volunteers, the need to help others drives them to make a difference.
Aguilera and Hampton have been working together within the Senior Outreach program for many years now and their experience has enabled them to work like a well-oiled machine to the benefit of those they serve.
Aguilera, a retired correctional officer, came to Oakdale by way of a job transfer that took her from Los Angeles to Manteca, and later to Oakdale. She found her way to the CAPS program where Hampton was already volunteering within the Senior Outreach program and Aguilera quickly discovered her volunteering niche.
“It makes them happy and they get a lot of joy out of it,” Aguilera said of the seniors they visit as part of their Wednesday rounds within the community. “You get happiness out of life when you take the time to give to others. Sometimes just sharing a cup of coffee and talking about their day is all they need.”
Hampton agreed, saying, “We can connect to seniors who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find resources and it feels good to help.”
Hampton, formerly a stay-at-home-mom, was looking for something to occupy her time now that her two daughters are grown. She found the senior outreach program and realized she could really make a difference.
“I feel by visiting them we’ve enriched their lives,” Hampton shared. “And you get close to them.”
Aguilera and Hampton start off their Wednesday by visiting each senior at their home, checking that their needs are being met, ensuring that they are eating properly, that their home environment is safe, and of course, enjoy the company they offer. Most times, the seniors, who, for whatever reasons, don’t have family around to see to their needs, are just happy to have someone to chat with.
In her quest to help others, Hampton discovered some uncomfortable truths.
“When I was younger I didn’t realize how difficult life can be for a senior with a walker,” Hampton said. “We take a lot of things for granted. Now that I’ve seen how the seniors struggle, it’s made me more aware.”
Hampton and Aguilera shared a story of an older gentleman who had moved to Oakdale. When they asked what he thought of his new town, he admitted he’d only seen what was out his window because he couldn’t maneuver his wheelchair down the steps. Essentially, he’d been a prisoner in his own apartment because there was no wheelchair access. Senior Outreach worked to get him a ramp so that he could at least leave his apartment when he chose.
“Now we just need to find him a different wheelchair because the one he has is really old and heavy and it’s hard for him to manage,” Hampton said. “We’re working on it.”
It takes a special kind of volunteer to do the work Hampton and Aguilera do, not only for the people they serve but for the emotional toll it can take on the volunteer.
Over the years, they’ve grown close to some of their seniors and when they pass on, it’s hard not to react with tears.
“It’s hard. We’ve lost a few that made us very sad,” Aguilera said. “But it’s the circle of life. I think what’s the hardest is there’s nobody to cherish the pictures, and tell the stories. That’s the sad part.”
To be a senior outreach volunteer, you’ve got be to made of stern stuff, Aguilera agreed.
And sometimes, they run across difficult, curmudgeon-type seniors who aren’t exactly a joy to be around but as Aguilera said, “The one that you do help makes up for the 10 idiots you saw earlier.”
Hampton agreed, saying, “Your reward is seeing their progress and knowing without your help, it wouldn’t have happened.”
For Aguilera, working with the Senior Outreach has enabled her to find ways to deal with her own elderly mother. It has also cemented Aguilera’s belief that in life, you have to give to get.
“We need to be more caring of the people around us and they don’t need to be family,” Aguilera said. “You’ve got to pay it forward.”
Senior Outreach is always looking for more seniors to add to the program.
“If you know of anyone who needs our help, please let us know,” Aguilera said. “Check on that little old lady that you see everyday. Chances are she might need something but doesn’t know who to ask to get it.”
The program is also looking for a few good men and women volunteers. The qualifications include: must have giving heart and the need to improve the lives of others through service.
For more information, call the Oakdale Police Department at 847-2231.