Senior Companions Help Seniors Maintain Independence
By Chris Cunningham
Seventy-six-year-old Samuel Reeder sometimes gets up and dressed at 6 a.m., waiting for his Senior Companion Chuck Pharis to take him for a swim.
Twila Jacobsen, Pharis's supervisor at Senior and Disabled Services, paired the two gentlemen last year after she determined that Camille Reeder, Samuel Reeder's wife, would benefit from the agency's Family Caregiver Respite Program.
Pharis came up with the idea of taking Samuel Reeder swimming at Thurston swimming pool to help him maintain his flexibility and keep his muscles strong.
Samuel Reeder, who has his Ph.D. in chemistry, developed Parkinson's disease 25 years ago. The neurological condition affected his ability to move. But, he continued to work as a chemist until 2006, when his health began to deteriorate significantly.
His decline made it impossible for him to drive and difficult for his wife to leave him alone in the house. Camille Reeder says she is grateful that Jacobsen paired her husband with Pharis, who sees Samuel Reeder four times each week, allowing her to run errands, visit friends and even take in an occasional movie.
Pharis had returned to LCC to develop a new skill set after a logging accident and downturn in the timber industry reduced any opportunity for employment.
He became a Senior Companion as a Cooperative Education student earning social service credit hours. But after meeting his oneyear commitment to the program, and earning his two-year degree from the college, Pharis decided to continue, because he is passionate about serving
"I just really love my clients," Pharis says of his eight clients, with whom he spends three to four hours each per week, taking them grocery shopping, to doctor appointments and to Willamalane Adult Activity Center.
"Clearly swimming isn't anything we would have asked Pharis to do," says Beth Brooks, Senior Companion's project specialist. Even so, "His kindness is very representative of all Senior Companions."
Pharis is one of 60 senior companions who help 299 older people in Eugene/Springfield maintain their independence and reduce their social isolation. Brooks says Lane County's Senior Companions "really put their hearts into their work with their clients."
To qualify as a Senior Companion, a person must be 55 years old or better, meet low-income guidelines, pass a criminal background check, and be able to volunteer 15 to 40 hours per week.
Brooks says there is a constant need for more Senior Companions in Eugene/Springfield, as well as Oakridge, Cottage Grove, Veneta, Junction City, and Florence.
For their services, Senior Companions receive a tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour, compensation for meals, and travel reimbursement.