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Volunteer Program Assists Seniors
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CAPS member and Senior Outreach volunteer Lupe Aguilera, front, goes through the filing the program’s created for senior Janis Paredes, 75, while fellow team member Debbie Hampton keeps a record of the visit. The Senior Outreach program has 125 seniors enrolled throughout the city. - photo by Kim Van Meter
Janis Paredes, 75, of Oakdale, likely never imagined that when she hit her golden years she might not be able to function by herself. It’s likely she never thought her grown children might become so caught up in their own lives that they might overlook her needs. And most certainly, Paredes likely never imagined that her final years might be shadowed by the pervasive presence of Alzheimer’s disease.But that’s her reality.With the help of the Senior Outreach program, currently operating through the Oakdale Police Department, seniors such as Paredes are afforded the ability to remain in their homes when otherwise, they might be forced to retire to an assisted living complex.Volunteers, such as Lupe Aguilera and Debbie Hampton, Citizens Auxiliary Police Services (CAPS) who are part of the Senior Outreach teams, visit the homes of the 125 seniors currently enrolled in the program, ensuring their basic needs are being met.For seniors who have lost their eyesight, hearing, or their memory, these visits are a godsend.“We met Janis four years ago when she got her head stuck in a trellis while looking for her deceased husband,” Aguilera shared as she smiled at the amenable, elderly woman who loves her cats and her caregiver but can’t remember many things, such as the fact that her husband died many years ago. “It was cold and raining and the trellis had fallen on top of her.”Common to those who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Paredes had wandered and gotten lost, unable to find her way back to the Hinkley Avenue residence she’d called home for more years than she can recall, but at least since 1994.When Paredes’ case came to the attention of the Senior Outreach program, the volunteers discovered that the elderly woman was on the verge of having her water and power shut off due to nonpayment.“We started keeping track of her bills to make sure everything was getting paid,” Aguilera said, adding, “We also made a filing system for all her paperwork.”Now, when bills come in the mail, they are put in the proper place and paid.Paredes’ current caregiver Katie Farren, had only recently moved to Oakdale from Pennsylvania and found Paredes’ situation heartbreaking. With a background in nursing and with help from the Senior Outreach program, she became certified with the county to provide part-time care to the elderly woman.Paredes is grateful for the help, saying, “It’s hard for me to write nowadays. They do so much and they give me company aside from the cats.” Of the memory issue, Paredes is also aware and finds the gaps frustrating. “I know things but I can’t remember and it’s horrible.”Aside from seeing that bills are paid, volunteers ensure that the residence is safe from the temperature to the environment. Aguilera shared her experience with one of her seniors who is sight impaired.“She couldn’t see the thermostat and couldn’t tell if it was set to heat or cool or what temperature to set it at. So I made a little notch on the thermostat that she could feel,” Aguilera said. “Sometimes it’s those little things that make a big difference.”And sometimes, it’s the big things, too.Farren said, “The CAPS have been most helpful. They gave me the name of a handyman who only charges for materials and he’s been a lifesaver. The CAPS and the fire department also installed new smoke detectors. Without CAPS, a lot of seniors in this neighborhood would be suffering.”Always, the Senior Outreach program aims to keep the seniors in their home environment for as long as possible, said program coordinator Ann Farmer.“As long as they’re not a danger to themselves we want to be able to help them stay in their homes. They’re often very lonely and we’re the only ones they see. They’re always very grateful for the help,” Farmer said. “It’s such a good program and we’re thankful the police department can have something like this for our seniors.”However, Farmer admitted, the program has a zero budget, as in the police department cannot afford to allocate funds due to the economy, so the program runs solely on the power of donations.The City of Oakdale donates ROTA vouchers to give to the seniors so they can make it to doctor’s appointments and such, but the program purchases taxi vouchers and creates care packages as well.“We try to fill in the gap wherever that may be,” Farmer said, saying that they’ve paid utility bills, paid for groceries, or whatever might be in dire need at the moment. “We’ve dealt with any issue seniors may have from medical to finance.”And frankly, the coffers are bare.“We haven’t had a donation in a while,” Farmer said. “Sometimes I’ll go to the service groups when we really need money and they’ve been very good.”But what Farmer is reluctant to say is, there’s always a need for more.And if money is short, in-kind donations are always welcome.“We need people who are willing to transport seniors for their doctor’s appointments or take them grocery shopping,” she said.Farmer explains her passion for the program. “We are touching the lives of our seniors. It’s our time to do something for them.”To make a donation or to find out more information on how you can help, call Ann Farmer at 847-2231.