Danville woman wins United Way's Stith Award

March 26, 2004|HERB BROCK

A lot of people start second families. A lot of people start second careers. Sophronia Reese is doing both at the same time.

Reese is a volunteer in the Bluegrass Community Action Agency's senior companion program, and she recently was recognized for her work in the program, receiving the Jack B. Stith Pursuit of Excellence Award at last week's Heart of Kentucky United Way Recognition Banquet. The award honors the memory of Stith, who was a longtime funeral director and involved in many community programs, projects and events.

But as much as Reese appreciates the award, being with the elderly people she serves is reward enough.

"I really have enjoyed being in this program and helping the people I've been assigned to," said the retired, 77-year-old Danville resident. "They really are like family to me. I love it."

Reese, who has been a senior companion for 10 years, is one of 20 volunteers in the local program. She and the others are paid a small stipend to cover travel and any other expenses.


The program is operated in all 10 counties served by the Bluegrass Community Action Agency, including Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties as well as Boyle. The program's companions serve approximately 100 elderly people in the four area counties.

"We're in our 14th year and are still growing," said program director Eileen Latham, adding that the agency funds the program with a federal grant. "More and more frail seniors are being served by dedicated, caring people like Sophronia."

Latham said the agency's clients come from referrals from the Housing Authority of Danville, which operates Arnold Towers for elderly residents, the Boyle County Senior Citizens Center, Heritage Hospice, Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, and local home health agencies.

"The typical client is an 85-year-old, homebound woman who needs a little help in order to remain independent," said Latham, noting that some clients are in their late 90s. "Our goal is to keep them as independent as possible for as long as possible."

Senior companions help in several different ways

That help from the senior companions comes in the form of cooking, grocery shopping, light housework and taking clients to and from doctor's offices.

Companions, most of whom also are elderly themselves, usually are assigned to one client but can take care of up to three, depending on the needs of each client. Each companion works 20 hours a week, no matter how many clients they have.

"Some clients only need an hour a week, for grocery shopping or to be taken to a doctor's office, while others need an hour or more a day," Latham said.

Reese said she learned about the program a decade ago from a friend who was serving as a companion.

"My girlfriend told me how much she liked helping older folks, and I thought that sounded like something I'd like to do," she said. "Besides, I was looking for something to do, something that would get me out of the house."

Reese spent most of earlier life with plenty to do. A native of Danville, she moved to Cincinnati as a young woman and landed a job at a major hospital there. She worked in the hospital's dietary department for many years.

In 1980, after spending 35 years in Cincinnati, where she raised three children and worked full-time, she retired and returned to her hometown. She essentially was a retiree, but did serve as a sitter at a local nursing home for several years.

"I was pretty much ready to live the life of a retiree, with my working days over and my children (Michael Hughes of Danville, Martha Wilkinson of Stanford and Ronald Weaver of Cincinnati) all grown and out of the house," she said.

But in 1994, the opportunity to serve as a senior companion presented itself, and Reese has been happy ever since that she took it.

"Being with many of my clients has been like being with family," she said. "In fact, I see them more than I see some of my own family members.

"You're really not supposed to get too close or personal with your clients, but you can't help it with some of them," she said. "I know I'm not supposed to, but I've developed some close friendships. I've even felt as close as a sister to some of them.

"I guess I wasn't ready to totally retire or stop caring for people, after all."

Want to be a senior companion?

If you have a few spare hours a week and would like to spend them helping a homebound elderly person with errands, shopping and light household chores - and make a new friend in the bargain - you can become a volunteer in the Bluegrass Community Action Agency's senior companion program.

If you are interested in becoming a companion, or know someone who needs a companion, call program director Eileen Latham at 1-800-456-6571, ext. 215 or 219.

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