SIKESTON - Many of us take for granted the ability to live at home and come and go as we please.
But senior citizens consider being on their own a blessing. And helping them keep that independence is what the EVE Project is all about.
A program of the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, Elders Volunteer for Elders provides advocacy and friendship to at-risk seniors in several counties including Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi and Stoddard who live at home or don't have the assistance required to remain independent.
EVE began as a three-year pilot project in three Missouri sites, one of which was Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging in Cape Girardeau. In the beginning it served only seven counties in the Bootheel, today it is a program that serves people age 60 and older in 10 counties.
Currently, organizers are looking for volunteers to receive training to visit seniors in the Sikeston area weekly or twice a month and to help them find solutions to problems they may be facing.
"We need people who are caring individuals and they don't have to be any certain age to be volunteers, as long as they are 21 or older," noted Jan McFerron, project coordinator. "They go through 12 hours of training, but that's not all sit down and lecture-type training, some of it's video. Then I supervise them with a client and they have a manual that they read and they keep it the entire time that they volunteer for this program."
Typically, referrals come from the Division of Senior Services, case workers, nutrition centers, in-home service agencies, families, friends, churches, and other agencies and individuals concerned about individuals who are living alone or do not have the needed assistance in order to remain independent.
"These are people who are pretty much homebound," McFerron said. "They just need a friend and an advocate that will come by and visit with them. Volunteers are not allowed to transport the clients in their vehicles but they can run errands for them, help them make sure bills are paid, see that their check book is up-to-date, balance their monthly statement, make calls for them, etc.
"There are a lot of senior citizens out there who are trying to live at home or in an apartment who don't have a lot of family members that live around them, they may not have family period or they may not have family that supports them very much. In order to help them stay home for as long as possible or to remain independent, sometimes they just need a person that they can kind of depend on to come by every so often and be a problem-solver for them. There are lots of different programs and agencies that can help them with problems but they just don't know what's available to them."
The project has accessed seniors to a variety of services, including helping with financial abuse problems, having wheelchair ramps built that they otherwise could not afford, helping with senior citizen tax credits and assisting them in qualifying for free legal assistance.
The amount of work volunteers are required to do depends on the client's needs, McFerron explained. Clients will not always have a problem to figure out. Instead, the volunteer's visit may be only to make sure the client is all right. Volunteers can also choose the number of clients they see.
Currently, in the 10-county area, the EVE Project has an estimated 120 individuals and close to 40 active volunteers. McFerron said there is no question about the difference the project has made in the lives of both the clients and the volunteers.
"I don't try to pressure the volunteers into doing more than what they feel they have time to do," she said. "I want it to be an uplifting thing and meaningful for the volunteer as well as the client. I want it to also enhance their lives.
"We've helped people in more ways that I ever dreamed we would," she added. "It can be a very rewarding thing to do, you'll get a lot more out of it than you put in."
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer is asked to contact McFerron at 1-800-392-8771.