01/13/13 — Foster grandparent inspired new Senior Companion chief

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Foster grandparent inspired new Senior Companion chief

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 13, 2013 1:50 AM

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Lisa Pence, new Senior Companion Program administrator with WAGES, smiles while talking about her foster grandparent, Bessie Hartman, whose photo she keeps in her office. Miss Pence credits her relationship with Hartman as one reason she cares so much about the senior population.

As a child growing up in Stevens Point, Wis., Lisa Pence didn't envision herself working with the elderly.

But an unexpected pairing changed the course of the life of the woman who would become Wayne County's new administrator of the Senior Companion Program.

"When I was in kindergarten I had a Foster Grandmother," she said. "We actually maintained a friendship until she passed away in 2009. She was 102."

She credits Bessie Hartman with being a constant and loving presence in her life.

"As a young child, she was just someone that helped me build confidence, and as I got older, she was that voice of reason," she said. "As a college student, I remember going and talking with her about what I should go with in school."

Officially, her Foster Grandparent was only assigned for two years, in kindergarten and first grade.

"But we had such a bond and it was odd, I don't think a lot of Foster Grandparents maintain a lifelong relationship, but we did," Miss Pence said. "I would go and spend weekends with her, between and ages of 7 and 10.

"It started with her helping me, encouraging me to be independent, thinking for myself. Because of the career path that I chose, I made sure that she had her power of attorney set up, services similar to the Senior Companions, helped her run errands, almost like I was her Senior Companion."

The experience came full circle recently, with Miss Pence's hiring as administrator of the Senior Companion program at WAGES, Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency. Since 1974, the national federal program has provided assistance and friendships to older adults.

She had previously worked with a community action agency in Wisconsin, moving to Wayne County more than two years ago. She initially commuted to a social services job in New Bern, where her sister's husband is also stationed with the military. She spent the bulk of the past year working with the child support area of the Department of Social Services in Wayne County.

But her heart, she realized, is with the senior population.

One of the reasons she was drawn to the job with WAGES was because of its Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs.

"I had been volunteering since February at Services on Aging," she said. "I had kind of been getting a flavor for the seniors in the community.

"This program, the fact that it's a program that there isn't a charge for -- we have a waiting list but there isn't a charge for it -- we help these people stay in their home. I like that."

Since taking over the role in November, she has met with volunteers and is actively working to maintain the rolls of 74.

"Right now we are recruiting and hope to do interviews at the end of January and start training in February," she said.

Volunteers work 20 hours a week and serve with clients who typically have a disability or a form of Alzheimer's or dementia. They also become a respite for the caregiver in the home.

Training for the role is essential, and her office provides 40 hours before they are assigned, as well as some shadowing with an already established volunteer.

There are also ongoing in-service trainings and opportunities to support one another and ask questions or exchange ideas and experiences.

Clients are referred through agencies like DSS, Services on the Aging, the national Alzheimer's organization as well as churches that have partnered with WAGES.

"Anybody can call and make a referral," Miss Pence said. "We do not provide hands on personal care for participants. We do provide companionship, respite, we can provide transportation, in the participant's vehicle.

"We do not administer medications, but we can make a light meal, help with some light duties in the home."

Most of the volunteers work in the home, with the exception of those assigned at O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center and First Presbyterian and St. Paul's United Methodist churches.

Volunteers must be at least 55 years old, and they receive a small stipend for serving.

"There are some income guidelines," she added. "However, I would encourage people to call in first, then we can discuss it."

There is an application and interview process, for both Senior Companion and Foster Grandparents.

Perhaps the greatest part is the mutual friendships that are built, Miss Pence said.

"I think it's good for the average volunteer as well as the participants," she said. "(Senior Companions) is not as well known as the Foster Grandparents program but it's well-received."

For more information, call 919-734-1178, ext. 202.