In the United States, more than 11 million senior citizens live alone.
Everyone should have someone in their world who cares, and that’s what our group Friends For Life is all about: people taking time to care for the elderly living alone, or in nursing homes who have no visitors. We demonstrate that people care.
In Waco, Texas, we serve as legal guardians for people who are not able to make decisions for themselves. We find them safe places to live, make sure they are clothed and fed–even meet them at the emergency room at 2 a.m., if needed.
It all started while I was visiting my father in the hospital one day when I heard a woman screaming. I went to see what was wrong and found a woman who was close to ninety years old. She was crying. She said, “I’m dying and I don’t want to die alone, please don’t leave me!”
She was sick, in a hospital 200 miles away from her nearest family, and no one was coming to see her. She was convinced this meant she was dying, because if she were going to live, her family would still be coming to see her. I gave her a stuffed animal and flowers and read from my Bible to her. Mostly, I listened to her. She decided I wouldn’t be doing all that if she were dying. In a short time, she got well and went home.
After I visited her, the nurses asked, “Since you visited this lady that you didn’t know, would you go see a lady on the fourth floor who is all alone?”
So, I also brought her a stuffed animal, visited with her, and she got well enough to go home. Then they asked, “There is someone on the second floor who has no family, could you check on her, too?”
I kept thinking that the help they needed already existed – somewhere. I learned that over half of the people in nursing home never have a single visitor. I also learned that over half of the elderly people who were living alone, needing help, weren’t getting help at all – from anyone.
The first year and every year after that trying to meet those needs has been challenging. One day, in our early days, I received a call from a nursing home asking me to make corsages for the 220 women who were in their facility. They explained what a sad holiday Mother’s Day is for all the moms who never had children, for all whose children had passed away, and for those whose children didn’t come to see them that day.
I said, “I’ll do it.” I didn’t have a flower or money to buy flowers or any idea how to make a corsage. And, the Friday before Mother’s Day, I wasn’t any further along, but I ended up going to a garden shop and gathering up everything I could find that looked like it could be turned into a corsage.
I walked to the cash register trying to figure out how to tell the man I didn’t have any money. When I got there he said, “are you Inez Russell with Friends for Life?” I said, “Yes.”
He said, “There is someone looking for you.”
He took me to meet a lady who handed me $40. She told me that when she got up that morning she had asked God who to give that money to and He told her to come find me.
When I went back to the cash register, the man handed me a receipt for $39.94!
On another day, an elderly man called me to tell me his birthday would be the next day.
I asked him what he was going to get for his birthday and he said, “Nothing. I never get anything for my birthday.”
I said, “Well, if you were going to get something for your birthday, what would you want it to be?”
I recruited volunteers to go get 100-piece puzzles and, I found an elderly widow who loved to cook to make salmon croquettes.
We Do It All
We have all sorts of programs, from Adopt a Grandparent, to Friends for Thanksgiving, where we take Thanksgiving Dinner to homebound elderly and people with disabilities.
We also have Gifts for Grannies and Grandpas, where we remember people with gifts, cards or phone calls, a Pen Pal Program, Telephone Reassurance, Reading to the Blind/Visually Impaired, Transportation to the Doctor, Grocery Shopping, Money Management, Minor Household Repairs, and even a Light Bulb Changing Program.
We have 62 paid staff members and thousands of volunteers who work with us in Waco, Texas. We operate an adult day care center that is open 7:30am to 6pm, Monday through Friday.
For our adult day care center, we staff nurses, certified nurse aids, a CNA supervisor, drivers, an activity director, a cook, housekeeping personnel and an adult day care director just for that part of our work. We staff guardianship care managers who take care of our clients by making sure they have a safe place to live, food, clothing, medical care, someone to advocate for them.
Our facility is the Meyer Family Intergenerational Center, and children come from every grade level of school – through college as well as the Boys and Girls Club, scouts, church youth groups and children who are homeschooled. They play games with our clients (they especially love Ninetendo Wii (Habilitation), play music with and for them, entertain them, read to them, talk to them/listen, create art projects together and more.
If you want to get involved but don’t live in Texas, contact the National Volunteer Caregiver Network – www.nvcnetwork.org to see if there is a similar program nearby. You can also contact a nursing home in your area to ask them how to could volunteer to brighten the lives of any residents who don’t have family or friends nearby.
Every day at Friends for Life, we get to help people in need who don’t have family nearby to help. Having a friend means you have someone you can call when you need help. It means small problems can be fixed before they become huge. Having a friend means someone will advocate for you and remember you. For the thousands of people who are completely alone, finding someone who cares means everything.
If you’d like to know more about Friends for Life or if you’d like to help us, please visit our website: www.friendsforlife.org. Together, we can make a huge difference in the lives of very vulnerable people, one person at a time.