Thank you for sending me an angel. Beatrice Sniper and Mimi Edwards certainly dont think of themselves as angels, but to the homebound senior citizens they visit each week, they might as well have wings. I visit one couple and another individual for one hour a week, but sometimes I do more, says Sniper, 17, a student at Beer Hagolah Institutes. I want to do more. Just how much more the busy teen could possibly do after completing all of her school work, engaging Ocean Parkway octogenarians Anita and Benjamin in intense afternoon games of three-handed poker, and trying to keep up with a Brighton Beach wonder named Eleanor, who at 89 still volunteers for the American Cancer Society, is hard to imagine. Its equally remarkable that with a new baby, a dog and an entire household to care for, Edwards could still have any time left over to visit her friend Arlene, a witty senior from Avenue P and East 5th Street who somehow manages to remain upbeat even though shes basically confined to her first-floor apartment. I was looking for something where I could take my baby, says Edwards, 26. Even though he doesnt know whats going on, my mother always volunteered, and I felt that I wanted my kids to grow up like I did. Sniper and Edwards are just two of the 50 active volunteers working with the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Islands Homebound Visitation program a City Meals on Wheels program that matches local residents with neighborhood senior citizens who have limited mobility due to advanced age or illness. Our volunteers are really extraordinary, says Kari Bornstein, coordinator of the Homebound Visitation Program. They go above and beyond just visiting. Bornstein is the matchmaker responsible for introducing JCC clients to the volunteers theyre most likely to hit it off with. Her track record has been stellar since the programs inception earlier this year, having made 65 matches to date. Its constant recruitment, Bornstein says from her office at 3001 West 37th Street. I meet each and every volunteer beforehand, usually over coffee. I spend a good hour-and-a-half with them, and through that I get to know the person. The Homebound Visitation Program coordinator goes through the same thorough process with her seniors, carefully gauging her clients likes, dislikes and personality. I really want to find out who this person is, Bornstein says. I really get a clear picture this way. I Try to match the volunteer to the senior based on common interests, or hobbies. Seniors have specific requests, too. Some only want someone to visit them during certain times of the day. So, scheduling is important. Generally, I match gender to gender and try to match in areas. Sniper couldnt be happier with her matches. Anita and Benjamin theyre really amazing, she says. They love each other greatly and are very funny together. Their relationship is so fresh. A volunteer since last March, the hardworking student has learned that not all her lessons are confined to the classroom. Eleanor is really enthusiastic and kind, Sniper says. I want to be just like her. When you see these people, theyre always telling you about life what to avoid and what to look forward to. It gives you a whole other point of view. Their advice is really helpful. Its so comforting to come over to their house. When she does visit, Sniper finds wisdom both poignant and practical. Anita told me to accept people no matter who they are, Sniper says. Eleanor told me that when I go to a doctor, his hands are not X-rays. Edwards also looks forward to visiting her new friend Arlene each week but maybe not as much as her Jack Russell Terrier named Penny. Shes always giving him Jerky Treats and other stuff hes not supposed to eat, Edwards laughs. The new mom began taking her eight-month-old son Jack along with her on her weekly visits to Arlenes home out of necessity, but once the two women got friendly, Edwards learned that Arlene was really a dog lover. Arlene had a dog named Elsa for many years and basically treated her like a child. Elsa didnt eat dog food only kosher roast beef. Arlene likes the baby, but she loves the dog. Similar programs like the JCC of Greater Coney Islands Homebound Visitation Program are also operating in Brooklyn through the Prospect Hill Senior Services Center, located at 283 Prospect Avenue and the Bay Ridge Center for Older Adults, located at 411 Ovington Avenue. In all, Meals-On-Wheels funds nine such programs citywide with two new ones on the way. I want to give them comfort and show them Im their friend, Sniper says of the folks she has come to view almost as adopted grandparents. Its nice to be friends. Im interested in hearing their stories. Edwards may not be a student like Sniper, but the Ohio transplant says shes learned a lot from her experience as a volunteer. Ive really learned not to take small things for granted, she says. Its just amazing not to be able to do grocery shopping or clean your house. It makes you stop and think. While she is only 63, Arlene sufferers from a deteriorating muscle disease that has severely impacted her mobility. Edwards says her bright and engaging friend would love to have another dog, but couldnt possibly walk it in her present condition. She cant even navigate the five small steps that lead out of her apartment. Arlene is now forced to hunt for another apartment that can better accommodate her wheelchair. It teaches you to value your health and independence, Edward says. Besides that it teaches you to have compassion. It teaches you to empathize. Im always trying to convince people I know to do it. It really benefits you. Many think that its a selfless act - but the truth is it benefits you in many ways. Bornstein agrees that the program benefits both seniors and volunteers. It started in September and its really been a great success, she says. Its been nice to watch the program grow. We get lots of letters and thank you cards. It really opened my eyes to live for today. The JCC of Greater Coney Island is located at 3001 West 37th Street. For more information about the Homebound Visitation program call Kari Bornstein at 718-449-5000, ext. 212.
©2007 Community News Group
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