Grant would help establish senior companion program

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 23, 2000

The Natchez Senior Multi-Purpose Center may soon be adding another new program to its list of services.

Executive Director Sabrena Bartley said the center is in the last stages of putting together an application for a Senior Companion Grant from the National Senior Service Corporation in Washington, D.C. The grant, one of five available this year, would allow the senior center to begin operating a Senior Companion Program.

The program matches individuals age 60 and older with frail seniors in an effort to provide an added income and sense of purpose to the first, while helping maintain the dignity and independence of the latter.

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Senior companions would help other seniors accomplish daily living tasks, such as buying groceries, preparing meals and going to the bank, Bartley said.

Many of the daily chores younger, more able individuals take for granted are difficult for seniors to undertake.

In return for their service, senior companion volunteers receive a stipend, which will not affect any benefits they might be receiving.

&uot;The (Senior Companion) Program gives seniors who are financially strapped for cash an added income that won’t interfere with their benefits,&uot; Bartley said. &uot;And, for the senior receiving the service, it allows them to retain dignity, pride and allows the freedom of living in their homes.&uot;

The grant would also allow the center to reimburse volunteers for the costs of transportation and meals purchased while on assignment, as well as insurance and a physical examination.

Following the center’s mission of a &uot;commitment to providing exceptional service to the citizens of Natchez and Adams County,&uot; Bartley said, &uot;It seems only fitting that we should (apply for the grant.)&uot;

Edwina Petersen, senior center program coordinator, has done much of the footwork for the grant application.

She said the benefits of the proposed program are numerous. After talking with hospital officials, she realized such a program could help prevent the hospitalization of seniors as well as lead to earlier releases for those already hospitalized.

In addition, the services provided by the companion volunteers could help extend the amount of time an elderly individual is able to live in his home, as opposed to a nursing home.

While the senior center currently provides more than 3,000 home-delivered meals to seniors a month, many seniors are left to provide their own meals on weekends. A senior companion could help fulfill this need.

&uot;These companions will assist our frail seniors in maintaining independence and quality of life, if not improving it,&uot; Petersen said.

Petersen also said the companions would not replace professional or hired workers, but serve as a supplement.

Three communities in the state currently operate Senior Companion Programs. Grants for five additional programs nation-wide will be awarded this year.

Petersen said she feels confident the senior center’s application will be approved. If so, funding should be in place by September, and the program could be under way by the end of the year.