02/15/04 — After three decades, Senior Companions' mission still the same

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After three decades, Senior Companions' mission still the same

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 15, 2004 2:02 AM


News-Argus Staff Writer

1974. Eight-track tapes, the year Richard Nixon resigned from office, the 55 mph speed limit was introduced, and the Vietnam War ended.

Just a few flashbacks introduced on Friday as WAGES Senior Companions marked its 30th anniversary.

Crystal Biles, program specialist with the Corporation for National Services for the state, led the stroll down memory lane even though she admitted at the outset she is not yet a senior citizen.

Most notably, she said, was that in 1974 Wayne County saw a need to help its senior citizens. WAGES became one of the 18 agencies in the nation to implement senior companions.

"Wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a 'squeegie,'" she told the audience. "You're so special for giving of yourselves and making a difference in the life of another."

June Monk, administrator for Senior Companions, said the program began with 50 slots and served 100 recipients at three stations. Its purpose was to allow citizens 60 years old and older to provide services to frail, elderly adults. Those services could range from companionship to meal preparation and home management.

"It became a vital link for at-risk seniors to remain in their homes as long as possible," she said.

The program has expanded from 50 members to 75, serving 20 hours per week at 11 volunteer stations. But the mission has remained the same.

"The seniors use the talents, skills and wisdom they have accumulated over a lifetime to give back to their communities," she said.

She estimated that during the 30 years volunteers have accumulated 2,199,320 hours of service. Whether that is tabulated by minimum wage or another means, it has saved taxpayers more than $3 million.

Goldsboro Mayor Al King said the service rendered is about more than what can be measured in dollars and cents.

"It's that individual interaction that you have with the people," he said. "You form a friendship, a bond, a family. They need to know that you care, and there's nothing more important to a person that needs help than to know that someone out there cares."

County Commissioner Atlas Price said the volunteers are doing something that helps senior citizens stay independent in their own homes.

"You touch that individual," he said. "Every time you go there, it makes that individual think that maybe life's not all bad. Everyone you touch, you make a difference."

The Rev. McGee Creech, chairman of the senior companions advisory council, recalled being asked to represent Cherry Hospital on the council by his supervisor back in 1974.

"Never heard tell of such a thing," he said. "That's because it had just started."

He said the years have allowed him to cross paths with some wonderful people who are doing wonderful work for the citizens of Wayne County.

"You bring so much joy and light and happiness into their lives," he said.

Dr. Craig McFadden, president of the WAGES board of directors, said he wasn't certain what line is crossed to qualify as a senior citizen. But as one who enjoys working with statistics, he offered a theory on why time seems to pass so much quicker as one gets older.

"When you're 5 years old, one year is 20 percent of your life," he said. "When you cross over 50-plus, one year is like less than 2 percent.

"So 2 percent goes by a lot faster than 20 percent."