From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Volunteer Chore Service: individual generosity has impact on thousands of lives

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 7, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Pat Little of Spokane is nearly blind. She is able to live in her own apartment, though, with help from a volunteer who takes her shopping. The volunteer, Loretta Sabo, is provided to Little through Volunteer Chore Service (VCS) of Spokane, a program administered in the Spokane Diocese by Catholic Charities. Sabo also calls Little, to see how she’s doing.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Little said. The feeling is mutual; Sabo said that she is “very blessed in knowing Pat.”

The program that matched Little with Sabo operates on a simple premise. Clients — low-income disabled and elderly — are matched with volunteers, to provide the clients with a simple, yet much-needed service, such as housekeeping or transportation.

The Spokane Diocese covers 24,356 square miles in a diverse geography that ranges, from the foothills of the Rockies to rolling farmland. In that space, more than 400 people are volunteering to help others in need of their help.

• Anne O’Donnell is the VCS program manager in Spokane, a post she has held since September. In November 2001, the latest month for which she had figures, over 450 clients were assisted by about 200 volunteers. “We really try to help as many people as possible,” she said.

• Helen (Tootsie) Keller is the program manager for Lincoln and Adams counties, a part-time job she has held since 1990. Some of the bigger cities in the two counties are Othello, Davenport and Ritzville.

Keller puts about 25,000 miles a year on her car, traveling to meet clients and help them get assistance. “A lot of what we do out here,” she said, “is provide transportation to Spokane.” She has about 20 volunteers who assist an average of 50 clients.

• In Whitman County, Catholic Charities contracts with the Council on Aging and Human Services to provide drivers for the county’s residents, and for the Meals on Wheels programs. Diane Yettick coordinates the volunteers. She says she has about 50 drivers in all the county’s towns, helping people get to medical appointments or grocery stores.

• Chad Heaton of Colville manages the program in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, and on the Colville Indian Reservation. The 6,000 square miles includes such towns as Chewelah, Republic and Kettle Falls.

Getting clients to medical appointments is the major service the Colville VCS provides. “I’d say it’s about 65 or 75 percent of what we do here,” Heaton said. He started his job last July. His program serves about 130 clients a month.

• Pat CrowE of Addy is a volunteer or the Colville VCS. He is a driver, taking people to medical appointments. He started with the program in 1991, putting 274,000 miles on his vehicles and contributing 12,000 hours. Currently he is taking three people for weekly kidney dialysis.

CrowE is retired and finds a double reward in helping others and also in the trips themselves. “I enjoy (the driving) and people need it.”

• Down Walla Walla way, Cherie Bernave is another part-time program manager, on the job for 13 months. Her program serves four counties: Walla Walla, Garfield, Columbia, and Asotin. Some of the larger towns in that area include Walla Walla, Othello and Asotin. Clarkston is subcontracted to a program called Interlink which provides chore services.

Bernave said she has an average of about 100 volunteers serving 245 clients in a year’s time. Most of her clients’ needs are transportation-related.

• Up in Okanogan County, the state’s largest, Gerrien Gilman coordinates VCS. Her situation is unique in that the largest county has the least population, limiting Gilman’s resources for volunteers. Her program is the smallest, serving three to six clients a month with a pool of about eight volunteers. Even though the population is small, there is a higher number of retired people, making the need greater. Not all clients can be served, she said.

Who are the clients needing assistance?

Most are elderly, from age 60 up, but some are disabled, age 18 up, either permanently or temporarily. Their incomes are limited, and can be affected by high medical or home expenses.

But the program’s major benefit is that clients can remain in their own homes “with dignity and independence.” Elizabeth, a client in Spokane who did not want her last name used, said she and her volunteer have become “good friends. I’m sure I’d have to be in a some kind of facility if it weren’t for her (help).”

Clients benefit from Volunteer Chore’s flexibility in determining who will get services. Rather than a rigid income standard, VCS can look at a client’s home expenses or medical costs and balance that against income. “It’s a case-by-case judgement,” said Chad Heaton of Colville. Clients can be referred from other organizations or they may call themselves to ask for assistance.

Who are the volunteers providing these much-needed and much-appreciated services? They come from all age groups and income brackets. Some are retired and some work full-time. The state Department of Corrections provides volunteers, and occasionally clients who no longer need VCS services will return as volunteers.

Students, from college level on down, are another welcome resource. Some schools work VCS volunteering into school activities as part of students’ service to the community. Cherie Bernave has a number of volunteers from Walla Walla colleges and is very appreciative of their commitment.

Sue May is a volunteer in Spokane who does cleaning and laundry. She used to work in Home Health and said she became aware of how elderly people “lived on the edge. I decided when I retired, I would volunteer.” She enjoys being a volunteer, since, she said, “clients are very appreciative.”

The program managers recruit volunteers in a number of different ways: through parish bulletins, campus newsletters, donated television time, talks to groups, newspaper articles and even word-of-mouth. Gerrien Gilman of Okanogan County said there are a number of service clubs in her area, but she often sees the same faces at the meetings she attends. “Everybody belongs to everything, and they will often try to recruit me for something,” she laughed. New volunteers receive training and a background check before they begin their service.

Volunteers can set their own schedule of the time they can give. They keep track of their hours and each VCS program is reimbursed with state funds that come from the Department of Social and Health Services. The money is used to pay a staff to coordinate clients and volunteers and keep track of the all-important paperwork. Drivers are reimbursed for gas.

These funds comprise the major part of Volunteer Chore’s funding. Other sources — a very small part of the VCS budget — include grants and donations.

The number of clients fluctuates each month, as does the number of volunteers, but the need usually outstrips the availability of services. People who could do housekeeping or drive clients to the grocery store or to medical appointments are especially needed. The Spokane VCS has a waiting list of clients who have asked for housekeeping services. But all persons who could help out in some way are welcome.

All the program managers expressed deep appreciation for their volunteers and Keller said it best: “I love my volunteers,” she said. “They have very giving hearts.”

For more information, call Volunteer Chore at (509) 328-8400 in Spokane; (509) 647-5351 in Wilbur for Lincoln-Adams counties; 1-800-428-6825 in Colville; (509) 525-0572 in Walla Walla; (509) 422-4193 in Omak.


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