Doris Ray carefully opened her screen door as she greeted volunteer Kathleen “Kacky” Hammon into her home with a huge smile. Her excitement was unforgettable, her anticipation for weekly visits visible in her wise eyes that were opened wide.
At the end of the visit, Ray made her way down the newly constructed ramp from her front porch with her red walker to thank her dear friend Archie Daniel for everything he does.
Daniel, a retired captain at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, is also something of a community hero. He is the director of the Orange County Rural Alliance (OCRA) and long-time patron of Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (SALT). Daniel’s main mission is to assess the various needs of seniors in his community.
“They might need a ramp, occupation therapy, physical therapy or someone to start visiting them regularly,” Daniel said.
Orange County is home to several senior care initiatives that share the primary goal to maintain a quality of life worth living for the elderly population and to provide resources that may not be available to them otherwise. These organizations include SALT, OCRA, Handy Helpers and the Orange County Department on Aging (OCDOA).
Nancy Holt is a retired nurse and health care administrator. She sits on the board of OCRA and regularly volunteers with SALT.
“They tell us that sometimes we’re the only people they see,” Holt said of these seniors. “Isolation is one of the causes of decreased health; it exacerbates whatever medical condition someone may have. AARP calculates that 37 percent of all rural elderly suffer from acute isolation.”
These programs often focus their attention on community members in rural areas of the county because they have far less access to basic needs like transportation or grocery stores.
“Look at the community, look at your neighbors,” Holt said. “See who may need some help. That help may be only a visit, only a conversation, only a hug.”
Yvette Garcia Missri is an administrator for the volunteer programs division at the OCDOA and is a project manager for Project EngAGE, a senior leadership program. She works closely with Daniel to provide proper resources.
“Essentially Archie and I partner on two programs. The first one is our Handy Helpers program,” Missri said. “That program is a partnership between the Department on Aging and the Sheriff’s office. It’s all volunteer labor and the materials cost primarily comes from a fund that we have out of the Department on Aging .”
The Handy Helpers program volunteers construct ramps for seniors like Ray who have trouble using stairs. “We are looking to find more volunteers to place in these community-based opportunities,” Missri said. “In my unit we have a volunteer coordinator and she is really good at vetting volunteers and placing them. The best place to start is with us.”
These programs emphasize the importance of visitation. They often pair volunteers with seniors to check up on them and have conversations.
“We just started a new partnership with a nursing home facility called Signature,” Missri said. “It’s one of the only Medicaid-eligible facilities (in the area), so it tends to have lower income people with less resources living there. Despite being in the heart of Chapel Hill, folks there are really isolated and don’t have a lot of people visiting them, don’t have a lot of connection.”
“What we try to do is that when someone contacts us, Shenae is usually in touch with them within hours and makes an appointment to meet with them within a couple of days,” Missri said.
She said the Department on Aging has other resources that they urge the community to utilize.
“We have an aging helpline that’s staffed every weekday by our social workers. They answer theoretically any aging question,” Missri said. “It’s a really good resource for just getting plugged into the system and getting connected.”
The Aging Helpline can be reached at (919) 968-2087.
If you’re interested in volunteering with one of these programs or have any questions, contact Volunteer Coordinator Shenae McPherson at (919) 245-4243.
This story was originally published on July 11, 2018.