by Olivia Martin
TOPEKA — Starting out was a bit awkward.
Sophia Moreau had never met the two women she was visiting before, but she found herself sitting in their living room for an hour just chatting.
They talked about everything from the events of their day to doctor’s appointments and Netflix shows.
And the next week, she visited them again. And the week after that.
Now, she’s been visiting them once a week for three years, rain or shine.
Moreau, a graduate student at the University of Kansas and a parishioner of St. Raphael Church in Naperville, Illinois, volunteers with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ Friendly Visitors program in Lawrence.
Originally a wellness check program of the Topeka Police Department, Friendly Visitors has provided home visits, assistance reading mail and writing letters, daily medication reminder calls, transportation to medical appointments and more for 45 years.
And the program owes its success over the years to exceptional volunteers like Moreau.
And Beulah Carrington.
No obstacles to giving
“Beulah started volunteering with Friendly Visitors right after she [retired from] the Topeka State Hospital,” said Marilyn Thomas, Friendly Visitors coordinator for Shawnee and Douglas counties. “She doesn’t let anything stand in her way.”
And she means anything.
An African-American woman born with congenital glaucoma, Carrington graduated from the Kansas School for the Blind in 1950 and the University of Kansas in 1954. Her vision continued deteriorating and she is now completely blind with prosthetic eyes.
“I would call Catholic Charities to accompany me and my mom to her doctor’s appointments,” said Carrington, “[And] after I retired, [they] asked me if I needed somebody to call me every day.
“I said no, so [they] asked if I’d help them call!”
That was May 1997.
“I’ve been calling for 22 years,” said Carrington. “I call seven days a week.”
Typically, Carrington wakes up at 6 a.m. on weekdays, 6:30 on weekends and always makes her calls between 7 and 9 a.m.
She calls people who need reminders to take their medication, support as they deal with mental and physical illnesses, or just need to chat.
One of those daily calls goes to Portia Albert, who is homebound and lives in Hoyt. She has been on Carrington’s call list since 2010.
“Beulah is my contact with the outside world,” said Albert. “I don’t have any family. So what I know, I hear from her.”
Albert and Carrington talk about everything from politics to Carrington’s involvement in Lion’s Club to their personal lives.
“She’s contributed a great deal to my life,” said Albert, “not only as a charity and caller, but personally.
“She’s a wonderful woman.”
Another call goes to Donna Robinson in Topeka.
“I have a disability and I have to take medication,” said Robinson. “Beulah calls me at ten minutes to eight every morning and checks to make sure I’m doing OK, that I’m taking my meds and that I’m up and about instead of wasting the day away.
“She’s so encouraging, and I just love her.”
For Carrington, friendship is the goal of her volunteer work.
“I don’t just call and say ‘Hello, how are you?’ I ask them if they’re up and out and what they’re doing,” she said. “I just enjoy people; it’s a pleasant interaction.”
Her relationships with some she visits has grown such that, “I sometimes forget that I’m volunteering,” said Moreau. “I feel like I can talk to [these women] about anything in my life.”
Recently, Carrington has felt it is time for a change in her life.
“In September, God willing, I’ll be 87,” said Carrington, “so I thought it would be nice to begin my 87th year with a little more ‘me’ time in the morning!”
So, this August, Carrington retired from Friendly Visitors for some well-deserved “me” time.
“Beulah has been a joy to work with,” said Thomas. “All of her participants have let me know over the years that they love her and appreciate her.”
And she will certainly be missed.
“[Friendly Visitors] is a worthwhile service,” said Carrington. “I will miss the people I talk with.”
For Moreau, her work has just begun.
Her experience volunteering for Friendly Visitors has helped her recognize she wants to work in geriatric social work after grad school.
“People in their 90s often are forgotten about because there are not a lot of people who are willing to put effort in, who are willing to care,” she said. “I’ve learned to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“When I’m 90, I want someone to treat me like a human being too.”