Column: Agency’s vision based on neighbors helping neighbors

by Jan Lewis

It was not unusual for Ida* to be up at 2 a.m. At 86 years of age, a middle of the night bathroom call was just part of life.

She sat on the edge of her bed, the same bed that she and her husband of over 60 years had shared before his death. “Has it really been two years since he passed?” she thought as she wiggled her feet into her slippers. She pulled the walker, cumbersome but necessary, close to the bed and stood up to begin the slow walk down the hall to bathroom.

She had made this trip a 1,000 times. But tonight was different. She was more tired than usual and feeling a little lightheaded. Halfway down the hall, her foot slipped on an old area rug and in a split second she and the walker were tangled up on the floor. Unable to get up, Ida stopped struggling and began to pray the rosary.

Across town, the alarm went off in Mary Jo’s* house at 6 a.m. She made a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table for her devotional time, then fixed a bowl of cereal. Before getting dressed for the day, she picked up the telephone and started dialing. Every morning, Mary Jo, a Friendly Visitor volunteer for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, makes her Ring-a-Day calls. A senior herself, she enjoys the simple task of checking up on others and sharing life stories. The calls have always been enjoyable, but uneventful. This morning would be different.

She let the phone ring eight times at Ida’s house before hanging up. She waited two minutes, then called again, knowing that with the walker Ida couldn’t get to the phone quickly. Still no answer. Hanging up again, Mary Jo pulled out her list of emergency contacts — Friendly Visitor volunteers have emergency contact information for the people they call in the Ring-a-Day program — and quickly dialed Ida’s next-door neighbor. He found Ida still on the floor and called 911. After a short hospital stay, Ida is back home and determined as ever to live independently. When asked about her ordeal, she simply replies, “I knew Mary Jo would call and help would come.”

At Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, our vision is that we live in communities where neighbors are helping neighbors. We don’t need a government program. We don’t need to wait for a private foundation to give money. We simply need people who care to care.

Who do you know in your neighborhood that would benefit from a daily phone call? How much time would it really cost you? To learn more about the Friendly Visitor program, and other ways to help your neighbors, visit the website at: www.catholiccharitiesks.org. (*Names changed for privacy)

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