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People Able to Lend Support program helps seniors maintain independence

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 8:46 p.m.
Greensburg residents Elizabeth Wolfe (left0 and Nancy Michael met more than 2 years ago through the People Able to Lend support program offered by Highmark Senior Markets. 'I don't know what I would do without her,' Wolfe says. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

Elizabeth Wolfe's eyes never recovered from cataract surgery two years ago.

She no longer drives, and without the help of Greensburg resident Nancy Michael, she would have no way to get to doctor's appointments or the supermarket, she said.

Michael and Wolfe met 2 12 years ago through the People Able to Lend Support program offered by Highmark Senior Markets.

Michael, 67, a volunteer with the program, takes Wolfe to appointments or to pick up groceries.

“I don't know what I would do without her. I don't have anyone else,” said Wolfe of Greensburg.

The PALS program is intended to keep seniors healthy, independent and living at home for as long as possible, according to program coordinator Randy Detweiler.

About 500 volunteers provide services at no cost to recipients in nearly 50 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Those services include transportation, grocery shopping, visits or phone calls, writing letters, feeding pets, preparing meals or doing light household chores or yard work.

Detweiler said most participants request transportation or social visits.

“Our volunteers really become quite attached to their recipients,” Detweiler sad. “They become friends, and having a new friend to stop by or call makes a huge difference.”

Program leaders coordinate more than 160 book, quilt and walking clubs.

The program started in 1997 with 140 volunteers who completed about 100 hours of service in the Pittsburgh area. Since then, it has grown significantly.

In 2012, about 500 volunteers, most of whom are retired, provided more than 8,500 hours of in-home service.

Volunteers must attend a two-hour training seminar and clear criminal and driving record checks. They earn credits that can be used for services, donated to a community bank or redeemed for gift cards at Giant Eagle or Eat'n Park.

Detweiler said the program makes a huge impact on recipients.

“So many people we help tell us they could not have stayed in their homes without the help from PALS volunteers,” he said.

Michael said it has changed her life.

“It's a very rewarding program,” she said. “It enriches your life.”

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or jphraner@tribweb.com.

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