Elderbuilders Helps Seniors Stay Independent

LIVING

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Amelia "Millie" Aleccia is a spirited woman who lives with her two cats in an immaculate little home in Star Valley. It should be mentioned that Aleccia is also 92 years old and blind.

Many seniors, like Aleccia, might very well be in assisted living if not for their own dedication to remaining independent and just a little help from organizations like the Elderbuilders Program.

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As an Elderbuilders volunteer, Cyndi Heinecke visits 92-year-old Millie Aleccia once a week. They run errands, go out to eat, or just chat. "She makes me happy," Aleccia said of her new friend, Heinecke.

Jeannie Filson is the Community Development Specialist for Elderbuilders.

"It seems that whenever people have to give up their homes and go into assisted living, they go downhill," Filson said. "Part of our mission at Elderbuilders is to provide services that allow people to stay in their homes."

Aleccia is visited by Elderbuilders' volunteer, Cyndi Heinecke, at least once a week.

Besides assisting Aleccia with grocery shopping and errands, Heinecke provides the intangibles of emotional support, dependability and friendship.

Practical help makes it possible for seniors to stay in their own homes, yet emotional well-being is essential in remaining healthy and independent, Filson said. Losing friends, loved ones can leave seniors isolated, she said.

Many members of Aleccia's family have died, including her son. Her husband of many years, died seven years ago.

"Cyndi is a very nice person and I love her dearly," Aleccia said. "She's very kind to me and when she says she'll be here -- she is here. She makes me happy."

Heinecke has spent most of her life caring for others.

"I've always been a caregiver," Heinecke said. " I ran a day care and have helped my elderly neighbors."

Ten years ago, her own parents became disabled and needed the services that Elderbuilders now provides.

"We could not find anybody at that time, in this town, that could help the way Elderbuilders does," Heinecke said. "Eventually my parents ended up in a care center and were visited by volunteers. This is my way of giving back to the community."

Trish Hofer is a part-time Payson resident and Elderbuilders volunteer.

During the week, she teaches at Glendale Community College and visits several seniors she is close to. When she comes to Payson, she visits the new friends she has made through Elderbuilders.

"Currently I visit a couple of senior men. In one case, his wife is a 24-hour caregiver and I visit him a couple of times a week to give her a break," Hofer said. "I'll take him out to lunch or we'll go for a drive."

Hofer said that ever since she was young, she enjoyed being around older people.

"Everyone has an aptitude for different kinds of caring," Hofer said. "Older people intrigue me -- they are interesting.

Hofer began caring for an elderly neighbor in Glendale 10 years ago.

"My neighbor, Eva, eventually passed on in a care center," Hofer said. "I know about 30 people in that care center that I still visit regularly."

Hofer said there are many seniors living in their homes who are isolated and lonely.

"At the same time, we have many retired people looking for something to do -- we need to connect the two. Elderbuilders matches the need with the supply," she said.

"Trish and Cyndi are really helping someone stay in their home, and it gives them a better quality of life," Filson said. "They stay happy longer. So many people need a visitor they can count on."

Filson said Elderbuilders currently has seven volunteers and 21 clients.

"We definitely need more volunteers," Filson said. "Even if it's only once every two weeks."

Elderbuilders is having a volunteer appreciation celebration from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Nov. 17, at the United Methodist Church. Those interested in learning about Elderbuilders are welcome, said Filson.

Both Hofer and Heineke say they've gotten a lot out of their work for the Elderbuilders program.

"People are so concerned about getting and then they are unhappy when they don't get," Hofer said. "If they would just cross over into giving, they would get so happy so fast."

"Millie said something yesterday," Heinecke said. "She said, ‘I don't know why God has kept me alive -- I think he kept me alive so you and I could be friends.'"

For more information on Elderbuilders, call Jeannie Filson at Gila Aging Services at 468-0546.

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