02/27/18 — Senior program offers elderly companionship and options

View Archive

Senior program offers elderly companionship and options

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 27, 2018 5:50 AM

Full Size


Rosetta Coley, left, folds clothes with her WAGES Senior Companion Pamela Williams Tuesday before lunch. Williams has been visiting Coley four days a week since December, forming a bond that has changed Coley's life.

Full Size


Pamela Williams, right, laughs as Rosetta Coley pulls her soft housecoat fresh from the dryer, and holds it up to her face. "That's her baby," Williams said.

When Pamela Williams showed up on Rosetta Coley's doorstep in December, the women had no idea they were on the threshold of a sweet friendship.

Coley, 75, was a teacher who retired from O'Berry Center.

Williams, retired from an administrative role at Wayne Memorial Hospital, was looking for something to do to get out of the house.

She applied for the Senior Companion program at WAGES, which trains and assigns people to work with elderly seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes.

"Our main goal is to reduce and prevent long-term care placements of seniors who just need help to continue living in their own homes," said Delbra McIntyre, senior volunteer programs manager.

Coley's family sought out the service because of some changes in her behavior and health.

"We did not know she had dementia because when my father passed, about three years ago, we assumed she was just tired," said Coley's daughter, Lori Brantley, who works at the county's Department of Social Services. "I contacted the WAGES program for her because, at that time, I was working four days a week, 10 hours a day.

"She always laid around in the bed, never wanted to get up. She would go to church, she wanted to go, but then she'd complain because we kept her out too long."

Brantley lives in Goldsboro, while her two brothers live outside the area.

They try to help where they can, but soon realized some additional support was needed.

Williams, like the popular Disney character Mary Poppins, swept in and made an almost immediate difference.

"Mrs. Coley would not get dressed or even sit at the kitchen table to eat meals," McIntyre said.

"With (Williams') encouragement and persistence, she now has (Coley) getting out of bed, dressed, hair combed, eating at the table and talking more to family and friends.

"Our client has been rejuvenated! The family is elated."

Kenneth Coley agreed that the caring companion has made a visible difference.

"It's definitely more positive and we feel, all her family, very much relieved," he said.

For Williams, it has been a labor of love.

She knew right away this was a good match.

The personable Senior Companion arrived with a simple approach -- to make Coley feel comfortable.

"The first day I came, I just kind of felt my way, just jumped in," she said. "Bless her heart, she's just as sweet as she can be. When I come here, every day, we get the biggest laugh. She's a sweetie. She's my girl."

Williams works three or four days a week, a few hours a day, handling a few chores, like laundry and folding clothes and preparing meals.

She recalled an exchange that first day, as lunch time drew near and she was preparing food in the kitchen.

"She looked at me and asked, 'Are you going to eat with me?' and I said, 'Yes, I am,'" Williams said, explaining that she brings her lunch. The ice-breaker was one of many that forged a bond between the two former strangers.

"I try to encourage her -- 'Let's get up. We're going to do this.'"

Coley smiled at the recollection, admitting she has become a fan of the daily ritual.

"She cooks good food," she said. "I like whatever she cooks."

She thought a moment before sharing first impressions of the newfound friendship, especially the warmth she felt from Williams.

Prior to the pairing, Coley said her daily routine consisted of one simple activity -- "lying in bed," she said.

That has all changed, Williams said.

"When I ring that doorbell in the morning and she greets me with that big ole pretty smile -- she gives me a hug every morning," she said. "That starts my day off, I'm telling you. I call her 'Sunshine.'"

The training from WAGES helped prepare her in some respects, Williams said, but every home, every family and every senior is different, so there was no way of knowing if the situation would work.

"I guess after you get into the home, you see what's what and fall in," she said. "It's a joy to come here every day. This was the assignment that was meant for me.

"This is a perfect fit, because we click, our personalities. She likes a lot of things that I like. We talk about church and of course, cookies. We talk about our likes and dislikes."

In just a few short months, the women have discovered much about each other -- like how Coley likes Steve Harvey and "loves 'Criminal Minds.'" She is in, fact, quite adept at figuring out "whodunit" in the mystery storylines, Williams says. And on really warm days, she enjoys going outside and raking leaves.

Williams has even picked up on some of Coley's favorite expressions.

"She's got me saying her little saying, 'Mercy!' That's her word," she said. "Like if we see someone doing something crazy on television, we'll look at each other and say, 'Mercy!'"

Brantley has been especially thankful for the Senior Companion program.

And she should know -- Williams is the third one they have had.

They have enjoyed each one, she noted, but there was a difference in Williams, more like a friend coming to visit than a caregiver assigned to a job.

"Miss Pam, she's been able to get (Coley) up out of the bed every day, shower and get dressed without a whole lot of fuss," she said. "Even when Pam's not here, she'll get up, make her bed, she'll get up a little more.

"It's a peace of mind -- for someone else to come and interact with her throughout the day, so she wouldn't be lonely and feel lonely. And they still allow her to be her own person."

As a participant, Williams also gave a ringing endorsement.

"Any family that needs assistance, I would recommend WAGES," she said. "Every county in North Carolina needs a WAGES program."