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Agency recognizes senior volunteers for vital services

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2002

For once those who unselfishly volunteer their time were put first. The Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency honored area volunteers of the Masontown Senior Center and the Point Marion and Smithfield homebound meals programs at a recent dinner at the center.

Sophie Capan, coordinator of the program, noted that the volunteers logged 7,200 hours worth $50,000 to the community over the past year.

Chris Homer, Fayette County supervisor of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Service Area Agency on Aging, emphasized their importance.

"You need to know how vital you are," she told the volunteers. "For many older people, you are their only contact with the outside world. If they fall down during the night, they know you'll come." Homer stressed to volunteers not to leave a meal if someone does not answer the door. "I've seen some horror stories and it is life or death, believe me," she said.

She also reminded the volunteers to always speak to the person receiving the meal.

"Once a volunteer went in and left a meal for a person sleeping in bed. That was Friday. That person was found dead in bed on Monday," she said.

Homer noted the Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency is a sub-contractor for the Area Agency on Aging. Its two main functions are to maintain the Masontown Senior Center services and to run the Nutrition Program that consists of meals at the center and the homebound delivery.

Approximately 45 people dine at the senior center in Masontown and 1,200 meals are delivered daily throughout the county. Smithfield and Point Marion residents receive approximately 50 meals a day.

The Senior Center also provides a variety of educational, social, and recreational activities. One called PEPI, the Peer Exercise Program to Promote Independence, helps older people ward off osteoporosis.

"It surprised me that they like that," said Capan. "They also like our socialization programs, like dart ball and playing cards."

The annual Senior Games program held in June is also very popular. Seniors from Fayette, Greene, and Washington counties compete in games like dart baseball, billiards and the like. "They practice all year," said Capan.

The games are played host to by a different county each year. Local groups within each county do the planning.

"Sponsors like the Connellsville Area Senior Tigers, Albert Gallatin Seniors, Cross Keys, and Community Action all get together and put it on," Capan said.

Seniors at the Masontown Center also enjoy other events like an annual picnic and the 3-K walk. They especially enjoy the brain games and spelling championship.

"You'd be surprised. Those people are really good because they've had phonics in school," Capan said,

In addition, they like the cook-off competition, in which participants cook from a favorite recipe and take the dish to the administrative offices in Monessen. Judges there determine the winner.

When asked about the problems of seniors, Dan Sedlock, of Uniontown, a member of the board of directors of the AG Human Services Agency, jokingly replied that it's "getting old."

Capan said that transportation is a major problem, noting that seniors demand promptness at all times. "If someone is to be picked up at 9 a.m., they want the bus to arrive exactly at 9," she said.

Carriers are sent to pick up passengers on a shared-ride basis. "There's no taxi service," said Capan.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Area on Aging subsidizes transportation for the elderly with state funding. The state pays 85 percent and local agencies pick up the balance in most cases.

"Medical transportation is a priority," said Capan.

Carriers go to Morgantown, W.Va., Pittsburgh, and other scheduled stops. "The Veterans' Express, which is not just for veterans, goes to Pittsburgh daily," added Homer.

Capan also noted the problem of some seniors, having to choose between buying food and buying medicine.

"There's no reason anyone should be afraid. They should contact us and seek help. We encourage people to attend the center for dining. This is top-of-the-line food, like Lean Cuisine," she said.

A main event at the dinner was the burning of the center's paid-off mortgage. The center was purchased from the Albert Gallatin Home Care Agency in 2001.

"They wanted to get out so they let us assume their mortgage. It was a bargain," said Richard Herod, of Point Marion, chairman of the Albert Gallatin Human Services Agency board of directors, who was involved in the purchase of the building.

In honoring the volunteers, the agency announced the hours of service donated by each. Among the leaders, Virginia McCann contributed 671 hours; Josephine Putila, 623; Joseph Cindar, 550; and Thelma Perry, 544.

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