MIAMI — The local health department’s Senior Companion Program has become so successful that the demand is outpacing the number of service members that are available to meet the need. That’s where you come in.

The program pairs trained service members 55 and older with seniors and others who have difficulty with the tasks of daily living in Ottawa, Craig, and Rogers counties.

Mary H. Parker, SCP Site Supervisor, Ottawa County Health Department, said, “Right now we have a waiting list of clients that need service members.”

Senior Companions help others live independently in their homes by assisting with paying bills, grocery shopping, household tasks, transportation to appointments, and companionship.

They also offer free respite for caregivers, provide contact with the outside world, and help make the lives of the people they serve fuller and more enriched. Because of the program, thousands are able to live in their own homes with dignity.

Betty Ketcher is a resident Senior Companion at Baptist Village and has three clients currently.

“We can do 20 hours a week and we get paid approximately $3 an hour and we get a stipend for mileage,” Ketcher said.

“You visit with your clients, go to Walmart, the drugstore, grocery store, play card and board games, put together puzzles, play bingo on Tuesdays, walk the halls and grounds, go to the dining room, enjoy live entertainment, and take them to the doctor for routine visits.”

Velma Clark is a resident at Baptist Village and a client of the program. She said of Ketcher, her Senior Companion, “I really enjoy it and the companionship is the best.”

“I feel like I’m helping someone and it gets me out of the house and keeps me busy,” Ketcher said. “I enjoy people. I retired from Integris Miami after 12 years and I still volunteer there. The Senior Companion Program is a good program. It helps you to help others, which might mean they will help someone else. It helps me be more active; I have something to do every day.

“At 84 you don’t feel like a 9 to 5 anymore, but four hours is good.”

Janea Hogan, SC Program Director, said, “The program is grant funded and started in 1986. The grand money enables us to have senior volunteers that we engage in service with elderly people who are trying to remain independent in their homes.

“We help caregivers a lot because they need breaks and time away. Plus the Senior Companions receive other benefits, like holiday pay, sick leave and weather pay. Most of our volunteers see two or three people a week. They have touched a lot of people’s lives.”

The program needs volunteers, especially men. There is a lot of need for men to visit with male clients while their wives get out of the house to go grocery shopping, etc.

All applicants undergo a background check, an interview, and pre-service and on-service training. They can serve up to 20 hours a week and must live within one of the three counties the program services.

New service members are always needed and there remains a waiting list of local clients. In order to qualify for this free service, you must be 60 and over, live in one of the three counties serviced, and need weekly assistance.

Locally, the program is sponsored by the Northeast Oklahoma Rural Electric Coop, Ottawa and Rogers County United Way, the Vinita Red Feather Fund, the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, Buffalo Run Casino & Resort, and the Oklahoma Department of Health.

Contact the Senior Companion Program at the Ottawa County Health Department, 1930 N. Elm Street, Miami, 918-540-2481, or e-mail maryp@health.ok.gov for more information. You can also find them on Facebook.