Harrison Co. program keeps elderly at home and out of nursing homes

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A Harrison County program allows people in their golden years to stay in their own homes without being lonely or overwhelmed by day to day tasks. The Senior Companion Program is made up of volunteers who are willing do light chores for the elderly and spend time sitting and talking with them. Right now there is more need than there are helping hands.

For 91-year-old Mable Magee, the Senior Companion program is a blessing and volunteer Ruth Sanders is an answered prayer. Miss Mable says she doesn't get around as well as she used to get around.

"Sweeping the yard, picking up trash in the yard. I can't hardly do that," said Miss Mable. "My back hurts. Used to do a lot of everything, but I can't do it now no more, can't do it, can't hardly keep house no more."

Several times a week Sanders stops by Miss Mable's Biloxi home to take her on shopping trips or doctor's visits or do whatever task needs to be done around the house.

"I cook. I clean. I go to the store," said Sanders. "I come and sit down, and she'll say. 'Don't do anything today. Just sit and talk to me.'"

"We'll sit and we'll talk. We'll crack jokes, then we'll go to the deep freezer. She'll pull everything out of the deep freezer, and she'll say 'Now help me get it back.'"

Officials say the program's goals are to try to keep the elderly out of nursing homes and provide regular companionship so they won't be lonely

"When you can keep them in the home, you can make them feel better," said Janice Green of the Senior Companion Program. "They feel more at home, and it will help to offset medical costs. So we do our best to keep them happy in their homes."

Volunteers must be at least 55 years old and pass a background check. They are paid a stipend of $2.65 an hour and receive a gas mileage reimbursement of $.50 per mile. Right now, there are about 21 senior companions, but officials say they need twice that number, especially to reach those who can't afford to pay someone to come in.

Green said, "It does not cost the client anything. It doesn't matter what the income of the client is if we find that there is an actual need and client cannot meet that need. They're 55 or older or disabled then it's possible that they could get on this program."

Sanders and Miss Mable say they've built a bond that as close as family.

"People like Ma Mable and the other ladies that I have in my program, they're just like my mothers, all of them," said Sanders. "It's just so great that I have the opportunity and the strength of the Lord to help someone else."

Miss Mable said, "Just like my child. She's a good person. I just love her to death."

The Senior Companion Program is federally funded. If you would like to volunteer or you are an elderly or disabled person in Harrison County needing a Senior Companion, call 228-896-2241.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.