Calling on shut-ins rewards both sides
In the Lake Country Publications' version of "The 12 Days of Christmas," "four calling birds" refers to four Lake Country residents who visit with the homebound.
Kathy Gale, executive director of Interfaith Senior Programs in Waukesha, said the agency has many ways to reach out to those who need assistance.
"We have community volunteers who visit in their homes, or are telephone friends, or bring them groceries from the store or from the food pantry, or take them to their doctor appointments as well," she said.
"We provide companionship," Gale added.
One program run through the agency's Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) has seniors volunteer as pen pals to local elementary school students.
"It gives the shut-in a chance to engage with the community, and then in May they get a chance to meet," Gale said.
"It's part of the curriculum in reading and writing. and it gives (seniors) a chance to give back. We probably have 300 volunteers throughout Waukesha County who participate, of which 50 may be shut-ins," she added.
"Our volunteers go across the board. A lot of them are recently retired, but just today we had three new volunteers who were younger people, in their 30s, who will volunteers on weekends.
"Even teenagers get involved with snow shoveling, mowing lawns. There's always a nice friendship that develops," Gale said.
Dave Bergles of Pewaukee has been a volunteer with Interfaith for nearly 20 years.
"With Interfaith, I mow the grass in the summer, rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow in the wintertime. Some of these clients come out and give you a soda or invite you in their home. Some of them don't get out too much, so they don't meet many people," he explained.
"The conversation is almost as important as the work you're doing," Bergles added.
The services provided are integral to their clients' lives. "Without Interfaith, some of these people would not be able to retain their own homes and live independently," he said.
The work is rewarding, Bergles added. "You get a lot of satisfaction knowing you've helped in that regard," he said.
Ralph Schmidt, 83, delivers Mobile Meals.
His 30-mile route varies between eight and 15 people, and he delivers once a week, every Monday.
"They're positive people. They have lots of problems but are never whining or complaining. They're on top of it all," Schmidt noted.
"I feel that I get more than a fair return on what I give. I feel so good (about delivering the meals)," he said.
Schmidt, of Oconomowoc, has no plans to stop. "I enjoy it very much and will continue as long as my health allows," he said.
Ann Lippiatt of Nashotah works as a parish nurse at St. Catherine of Alexandria church in Mapleton, a role she shares with Char Sroik.
The parish nurses offer emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual support to parish members.
Lippiat said the qualities needed for success in the role include empathy, being a good listener and compassion.
"We're not home health care; we're a resource, and we may refer to different agencies," Lippiatt added.
"We want to be in touch with the people. We're an extension of God's hands. It's spiritual; we take communion and pray with everybody," she said.
Kerri Johanning got involved in caring for seniors though some friends.
"They called me and said 'such and such a person was all alone and could use some companionship,' " she recalled.
There was a woman who had been forgetting to take her medication and did not have anyone to check on her or visit, so Johanning took up the role.
Johanning has experience in reaching out to people who are alone; she used to run the Oconomowoc Community Meal program, a monthly free meal that also offered fellowship to those who are alone.
"The biggest thing is they need somebody to listen to them and know that someone cares about them as a person," Johnanning said.
"Some of them have no family and feel they have used up favors from neighbors," she said.
Johanning said she looks forward to her time spent volunteering.
"I enjoy it. I like hanging out and talking and listening to them. It's very rewarding. I think of my own grandmother and how I didn't get enough time with her. I had moved away, and she would call me and say 'I'm so lonesome, come visit,' " Johanning said.
But with a young family and many demands on her time, it precluded making as many visits as she would have liked.
"Sometimes they don't have anyone to see if they took their medicine or have food in the refrigerator.
"Now I can be that person," Johanning said.
Photo: (From left) Kerri Johanning, parish nurses Ann Lippiatt and Char Sroik and Ralph Schmidt are among Lake Country's "calling birds" who call on shut-ins.
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