Seniors Helping Seniors
You probably couldn't
find a more diverse
-or lively-bunch of
seniors than in Catherine
McAulev Health Centers
senior peer counselors
Hildegard Bennett is a
native of Germany who
previously worked as a
dental assistant. Dorothy
Peterson is a former busi-
nesswoman from Jackson.
Lautaro Meza, originally
from Ecuador, is a school
crossing guard in Ann
Arbor. Jim Downer is a
retired English professor
from the Universitv of
Because of their varied
Dorothy, Lautaro, Jim and
other senior volunteers
are able to share their Senior Peer CounselorJam
time and expertise for the Chris Granaderos of St.Jose
benefit of many others- Downer, a retired Universit
deal of satisfaction" out ofl
mostly other seniors.
They are peer counselors, ranging in age from
their early 60s to well into their 70s. Some peer
counselors select a work area they're familiar with
while others do things they never thought they could
do. And they take great satisfaction from the built-in
rewards of comforting and assisting Health Center
patients and others throughout the community.
From friendly visitors to
Since she went through peer counselor train-
ing last year, Bennett has volunteered at the Health
Center's Child Care Facility and has been a friendly
visitor to a terminally ill woman and a 100-year-old
Bennett currently visits with an elderly woman of
Swiss descent. She recalls first visiting the woman,
Dep- tmei. at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital by repair-
ing broken wheelchairs. Occasionally, he is called
upon to translate when the medical staff treats a
It's nice to be needed
Each peer counselor brings his or her own
unique skills and areas of expertise to share with
those who need them. For example, Helen Meyers
had some previous experience with insurance com-
panies. Today, she helps other seniors work through
their problems and questions about Medicare and
supplemental health insurance. She often counsels
shut-ins in their homes. "Some people have dupli-
cate health insurance coverage that they're paying a
lot of money for," Meyers explains. "I never try to sell
any plan. I show them what's available and let them
"It's such a rewarding thing for me to do," Meyers
continues. "It's kind of nice to be needed."
Other peer counselors have volunteered in a vari-
ety of ways: assisting with the Health Center's new
Foot Care Service, visiting former Mercywood
patients, taking seniors to their doctor's appoint-
ments, providing clerical support and even arranging
a program on fashion and make-up tips for older
Getting as much as they give
The reasons why these seniors volunteer as peer
counselors are as varied as the individuals them-
selves. Bennett, who had undergone surgery at
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, says she had "beautiful
treatment and care by the staff. My husband sug-
gested I do some volunteering here because I have
a way with people.
"I get as much out of this (program) as I give,"
Bennett says in her German accent. "I love it!"
Downer, who helped give a "cooking-for-one"
demonstration last spring, likes to share his knowl-
edge with others. He jokingly adds that his motives
for volunteering "are purely selfish. I'm just follow-
ing up on my own interests."
Mary Louise Young, who assists in many activities
including the Foot Care Service, recently moved to
Ann Arbor. "I was lonesome, my husband had just
died and I wanted to make friends."
"I really like the people in this group," Meza says
of his fellow peer counselors. "They're friendly."
Members meet once a month to share their expe-
riences, to learn more about Health Center services
available to seniors and to identify more ways peer
counselors can contribute to quality care.
More volunteers needed
According to Carol Wischmeyer, coordinator of
Geriatric Social Services, the program receives more
requests for assistance than can be accommodated
by the current peer counselors. Many more volun-
teers are needed, she says, adding that peer coun-
selor training at Catherine McAuley Health Center is
being scheduled for this fall.
If you are interested in sharing some of your time
and talents with-other seniors-or if you would like
to receive some assistance from a peer counselor-
please call Services to the Elderly at 572-5189. 67
es Downer gives a cooking demonstration along with
eph Mercy Hospital Food and Nutrition Services.
ty of Michigan English professor, says he gets "a great
helping other seniors.
who was then a patient at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital
and had virtually no family members or friends to
visit her. "She couldn't believe that I would come to
see her," remarks Bennett.
As a new resident in Ann Arbor, Peterson wanted
to learn more about the community and help sen-
iors in the process. "We have a lovely group," she
says of the support groups she leads. "We go on
frequent trips, including picnics, drives through the
countryside, to the movies, the botanical gardens
and Domino's Farms."
Meza started his volunteer work by visiting resi-
dents at Ypsilanti's Kith-Haven Nursing Home and
bringing them Holy Communion. He also provides
transportation for some seniors who are discharged
from the hospital and who need help getting home.
Recently, he started volunteering in the Engineering
Reassurance is just a phone call away
Jerry Hurley, 58, is blind and has emphysema. He
lives in a house with another person who works
during the day but is able to care for Jerry on eve-
nings and weekends. Except for an occasional visit
by a home care nurse-and two dogs who keep him
company at home-he is alone on weekdays.
A new, free service offered by Catherine McAuley
Health Center provides people like Jerry with a
warm, reassuring telephone call every day from a
friendly volunteer. According to Fran Showerman,
coordinator of McAuley Service With Love, the ser-
vice links volunteers who like talking to others
with people who need someone to talk to.
McAuley Service With Love assists the home-
bound, handicapped and elderly. It provides daily
telephone contact by trained Catherine McAuley
Health Center volunteers.
"Sometimes just talking with someone helps,"
says Hurley, who signed up to be called when his
Amicare home care nurse suggested it to him.
"Somebody different calls every day between 9 and
11 a.m. I really appreciate it."
If the volunteer caller doesn't get an answer, he or
she will report to the program's base coordinator,
who will then call a designated neighbor or relative.
In an emergency, the local police may be asked to
All calls are made from the volunteers home. This
gives people of any age-especially those who are
themselves homebound or handicapped-an op-
portunity to become Health Center volunteers and
to feel gratification for their efforts.
If you know someone who would like to receive
this service, please call the Volunteer Services
Department at Catherine McAuley Health Center
at 572-4159. m - j.