Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 6, 2000

Donna Haglin: senior companions fill need for older residents

By Andrea Vargo

"She can do anything," said Delila Groves of Montrose.

Groves, 84, is speaking of her senior companion, Donna Haglin of Howard Lake.

Haglin, a volunteer for Wright County, said she provides services that help to make it unnecessary for Groves to be cared for in a nursing home.

If Groves needs groceries or a light bulb changed, Haglin does it.

Sometimes they sit and read the mail, or pay the bills. Groves signs the checks, and Haglin makes them out and mails them.

Haglin said she tries to get her seniors out of the house if she can, so sometimes, she takes Groves shopping.

One of four seniors Haglin visits each week, Groves is legally blind from macular degeneration, and has a variety of special items that help her through her day.

There is a clock that announces the time and a large magnifying screen that allows Groves to read some of her mail.

Books on tape are also available to her from the Minnesota Society for the Blind, if she wishes to use them.

Haglin has been volunteering as a senior companion for 13 years, and it doesn't look as if she will stop anytime soon.

She explained that a senior companion is sort of a part-time job.

"You spend 20 hours, more or less, each week visiting four to six seniors," she said.

Mileage is reimbursed, and there is a tax-free stipend, according to Haglin.

Jeanne Fobbe, coordinator for the Wright County senior companion program, assigns the volunteers to their seniors, Haglin said.

There is a monthly training session that helps the volunteers deal with some of the problems faced by seniors, she explained.

For example, some of the people Haglin visits can't see, can't get around easily, or are depressed, she said.

Haglin may take them out to do something or spend time with them in their homes.

Often, the depression comes when people can't get out and do things, she explained.

Companions also help fill out medical forms, and assist in applying for food stamps or other services, such as legal aid, outreach project, or health services, Haglin said.

They help prepare meals and provide a source of human warmth and contact for the client, Haglin said.

There is also a lot of record-keeping, and one of the things Haglin keeps track of are medications that are being taken by her seniors.

The senior companion program keeps older people out of care centers. The people are happier in their own homes, and it is much cheaper for the county, said Haglin.

A person must be 60 years old or older to qualify to be a companion, Haglin explained.

And while there are plenty of seniors, there aren't enough companions, she added.

"We need three to five more volunteers for just this area, and it only takes about four hours a day," she said.

Haglin, who is a recruiter at heart, added, "We also need more drivers to take people to doctor appointments and grocery shopping."

Is it any surprise that Haglin is also the coordinator for the volunteer drivers?

As far as her own volunteer work is concerned, Haglin said, "I just do what is necessary."

The senior companion's basic rule is to do what friends do for friends, she said.

For more information, call 1-800-362-3667 or 1-763-682-7486 and ask for Jeanne Fobbe, Human Services.

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