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Faith in Action gets seniors out

Director tries to expand program to help people get to more places

Director tries to expand program to help people get to more places

May 29, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

For the past 60 years, this is the place Mettie Sheetz has called home.

Built by her husband, she'll tell you it's small by today's standards.

"But we built what we could afford. People didn't go into debt in those days," she said.

She recalls living in the first two rooms while the rest of the house was constructed so the couple could save on rent.

It was here that she raised a family, planted flowers and became friends with her neighbors.

It was here - on Walnut Point Road - that she made memories. And it's here that she wants to stay.

At age 89, Sheetz has no intention of moving into a senior community.

She's growing older and wants to do it in her home.

It's a noble goal - but one with plenty of challenges.

Sheetz has been on her own since her husband died 10 years ago.

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She still prepares all of her meals, does light housekeeping and walks her dog.

But there are some chores that Sheetz admits she can no longer do.

"I can't paint anymore," she said. "I'm just too feeble. And the vacuum cleaner has just become heavier and heavier."

If Kevin Collins has his way, she and others in the same situation may get a helping hand.

As executive director of Faith in Action, a program of REACH Caregivers, Collins is hoping to expand a program that provides senior citizens and disabled individuals with transportation to and from medical appointments.

Collins said a pool of volunteers drives about 170 people each month to medical centers and doctor's offices - and some have several appointments each week.

"We are serving a population that, otherwise, would have real problems getting to those appointments," he said.

But he also knows that many of those same individuals are unable to go grocery shopping, clean their homes or do outside repair work.

"These are things that contribute to an older or disabled person having to give up their home," he said. "Imagine buying a home 40 years ago - or even beyond that - but now you can't clean your home, trim your hedges or repair your porch. And you don't have the finances to hire someone to do the work. This is where you are most comfortable, but without a little help, you might have to move into assisted living."

Collins is also concerned about those who are living alone and isolated.

"No one calls them and they have no companionship except for the television," he said. "Sometimes I have senior citizens who call to make a transportation appointment just to hear someone's voice."

Collins believes Faith in Action could be the answer to many of these people's prayers.

But to build this program, he needs volunteers.

"It doesn't take a lot of time and effort to help others," he said. "But a lot of people don't want to get out of their comfort zone. They don't mind volunteering as a group with friends; but when it comes to volunteering one-on-one, they find it more difficult. We need to get beyond that."

He also realizes that many people volunteer within their civic groups or churches to help members who are sick or homebound.

"But we weren't told to minister to just our own," he said. "We are told to help anyone in need. We should remember that strangers are just people we've never met."

Collins said he tells volunteers to put themselves in the place of the person they are serving.

"Think about your mother or father and the problems they may experience as they age. Think 20 or 30 years down the road and what your life will be like. You may be Superman now, but it won't last forever," he said.

Collins said he realizes everyone's life is busy.

"But sometimes we're busy doing things that don't need to be done. We need to stop and reflect where we're going and then prioritize. We need to rethink what is important," he said.

Collins said it doesn't take a special talent to volunteer, but if you do have a particular interest, you might be able to help someone plant a garden, help with meal preparation or clean their home.

"Just making a call several times a week to talk for a few minutes would be a gift," he said. "Or you might just sit and read to them."

Mettie Sheetz, who has been participating in REACH's transportation program, said she wouldn't know what to do without the volunteers who drive her to her appointments.

"I really depend on them," she said. "I don't drive, except to the local country store. I know my age and I don't go out on the fast highways. If I didn't have the transportation program and those wonderful volunteers, I think I might not go to the doctor at all."

Sheetz said she would love to see the program expanded to include other assistance.

"I would really appreciate it," she said. "I can't do many of the things I used to do."

Sheetz said she uses a cane to walk her dog, loves to cook - "I'm always inventing new recipes" - and still bakes bread.

She has family and neighbors who help out when they can, she said, "but everyone is so busy these days with work and other responsibilities. They hardly have time for themselves, so I hate to ask."

But she would love to go to the grocery store more than once a month "and I would love to go to the mall."

Sheetz, who will turn 90 in September, said she is still pretty healthy, having survived two broken hips.

"I have a good mind and am thankful for everything the Lord has given me," she said.

She is especially thankful to still be living in the house built all those years ago by her husband.

"This is where I'm most comfortable," she said. "I like living in my own home. I just don't think I'm ready for a nursing home."

Persons interested in learning more about volunteering with Faith in Action should contact Kevin Collins at 301-733-2371, ext. 100.

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