July 23, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
70°F

Group helps seniors help one another

LORAIN — The idea seemed so simple.

Senior citizens, who often feel like they’d be a burden to their family if they asked them for help, would have no trouble at all reaching out to someone their own age.

That idea gave birth to the organization Seniors Helping Seniors more than 10 years ago near Reading, Pa., and was also the impetus for a pair of Northeast Ohio natives to bring the program home last month.

Seniors Helping Seniors provider Maryanne Mason pours some coffee for Fern Coverly, who lives in Elyria with her sister. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Seniors Helping Seniors provider Maryanne Mason pours some coffee for Fern Coverly, who lives in Elyria with her sister. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Janet McGarvey, an Amherst native, and Alice Iseminger, of Lorain, run Seniors Helping Seniors out of an office on Broadway in Lorain. The office serves much of Northeast Ohio, McGarvey said. Seniors Helping Seniors has franchises in 26 states from Rhode Island to Hawaii. Their employees, the providers, are all at least 50 years old helping patients who on average are older than 60.

Regina Kemer, 67, was one of the first providers McGarvey hired, and her patient is an 87-year-old woman with dementia who lives in an assisted living center and depends on Kemer to keep her active in the community by taking her out to the park, store or wherever she’d like to go.

“All the nurses there tell me what a difference it has made taking her out,” she said.

Kemer visits with her patient three to four hours, twice a week. Plans and care are established with the patient, the patient’s family and Seniors Helping Seniors.

Kemer said the fact that she is a senior citizen herself gives her a better insight into her client’s needs and feelings than a younger person may have.

“If you send someone that’s 25 or 30, I don’t think (he or she understands) the wants and needs of a senior citizen,” she said. “I’m a senior, so I know that they need special care, special wants. I know what makes them happy, because what makes you happy probably makes me happy.

“I have nothing against young people. I just don’t think they understand elderly people like someone who is older.”

Kemer has worked in the medical field as an assistant for the last 40 years, but said she always found the most joy working with seniors. All providers are heavily vetted before they are hired, said McGarvey, including the usual background checks and interviews, but also a special touch that she said will immediately weed out unqualified candidates.

“I’ll call them when I’m close to their home and ask if I can stop by because I need to go over something with them,” McGarvey said. “I want to see their environment, because if they don’t respect their environment, they’re sure as heck not going to respect their patient’s.”

McGarvey said that seniors sometimes feel shy about asking their families for help because they don’t want to bother them, so this program gives them the help they need whenever they need it.

“Whether it’s visiting, snowplowing — we’re a one-stop shop,” she said.

Kemer said families also appreciate the fact that it’s someone in the patient’s age group caring for them.

“They’re more at ease with it,” she said. “They know then they don’t have to worry about their mother or father being taken care of.”

Seniors Helping Seniors began as a nonprofit organization serving Berks County, Pa., by Philip Yocom and his wife, Kiran. For more information, visit www.seniorshelpingseniors.com, or contact (440) 935-3848.

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.