Volunteers always needed for senior companion program

September 30, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Margaret Tamme already has her breakfast eaten and the dishes washed, perhaps her bed made up, when Martha Selby arrives at her Arnold Towers apartment. But Tamme, who has macular degenerative eye disease, needs help in other areas.

"I read her Bible to her every morning, which is a blessing to me," says the 78-year-old Selby, who gets a little teary-eyed when she thinks about their sessions together. She was assigned to be the 93-year-old Tamme's senior companion in May.

Tamme, who keeps her white hair cut short, sits in a recliner chair in her small, tidy apartment on the sixth floor. Selby pulls up a chair to read to Tamme, just as she does after lunch when they sort through the mail.

Tamme's failing eyesight means that she has to rely on a sister to act as her power of attorney and sign her checks.


Tamme says she didn't realize how much the Senior Companion Program would mean to her.

"It's been a lifesaver. I didn't think I needed it. I didn't realize how fast I was losing my vision," she says of the eye disease that began a couple of years ago but started taking its toll in the last year.

During the interview, Tamme revealed how little she sees.

"You all have faces, but you don't have much of a face," she says to the interviewer and Selby who are a foot away.

Cornbread and meatloaf are favorites

Because of Tamme's eyesight, Selby, who comes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, also does her grocery shopping, straightens the apartment and cooks lunches for Tamme. Tamme claims that Selby's cornbread and meatloaf rank among her favorite lunch treats. Selby knows that macaroni and cheese receives a four-star rating.

"We kid her sometimes. We believe she would eat it for breakfast."

Because Selby stays so busy, Tamme sometimes has to request that she slow down.

"She told me to come sit down, that she needed someone to help her rest."

Selby, who has lived next-door to Tamme for five years, decided to become a senior companion because she wanted to work but knew she had to change gears in the type of job she did.

"I had done some child care and I decided I can't keep up with them, so I need to do something else."

"She can keep up with me though," says Tamme, who has become best friends with Selby.

The program, which serves 10 counties in central Kentucky, has three aims. It allows frail elderly to remain in their homes as long as possible. It addresses poverty among low-income seniors. The program is free to seniors, but the companions receive a stipend that does not interfere with their other income. The program also strives to relieve stress among primary care-givers by allowing them to take a break without worrying about their relatives.

Eileen Latham, who has been working with the program for two years, says they are always looking for people to be companions. Danville has about 22 of the 100 companions she works with in Boyle, Anderson, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Jessamine, Lincoln, Mercer, Scott and Woodford.

Latham tries to recruit companions from senior citizen centers and says the Housing Authority of Danville attracts volunteers for the program because it has access to a lot of low-income elderly.

"A lot of it is word of mouth," Latham says.

The program is funded through a federal grant that requires a match. The matching funds are provided by United Way.

Tamme broke her arm

Although Selby and Tamme have become like peas in a pod, they were separated almost as soon as they were paired together. Tamme fell off a ladder and broke her arm. She had to stay in the hospital for a week and then was moved to a nursing home to recuperate. Tamme fell while trying to reach some contact paper in the closet so that Selby could cover a shelf the next day. Selby knew something was not right when Tamme's sister called and said she couldn't get Tamme to answer the phone.

Tamme was weak when Selby ran next door and discovered that her friend had fallen and couldn't get up.

"I'd been there four or five hours," Tamme says.

Tamme laughs about the stunt now, but they have threatened to remove the ladder from her apartment.

"They talked about me, a 93-year-old woman, like I was 20 feet up in the air," she says.

When Tamme returned home, Selby already had worked out that she would be reassigned to her.

Although the program offers many benefits for the recipients, Selby says she reaps rewards as well.

"It keeps me from sitting around and thinking, 'I've got this ache. I've got this pain.'"

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