Volunteer program helps disabled, elderly remain at home

Published on Thu, Dec 20, 2007 by Tara Nelson

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Volunteer program helps disabled, elderly remain at home

By Tara Nelson

Ten years ago, DaLinda Bartley was a full-time waitress at the former Cafe International in Blaine and an accomplished pool shark with the trophies to prove it.

Then, in 1998, she fell while putting up pull tab containers and injured her back requiring surgery.

It wasn’t the first time she had surgery for back problems. Bartley had also injured her back in 1984 at a previous job where she lifted a heavy box while twisting.

When doctors later told her she would need a third surgery, she told them no.

“It was just too painful and difficult to go through,” she said.

Nearing retirement age, Labor & Industries caseworkers told her they weren’t able to find a job that she could perform.

Today, Bartley is one of several Whatcom County residents who are able to live independently but have difficulty performing routine tasks such as vacuuming or cleaning a bathtub or toilet.

Divorced and with little family to help, the chores had been piling up for more than six years but it wasn’t until a neighbor called several Whatcom County agencies that she got the help she needed.

She also tried hiring help at upwards of $20 per hour to clean once a week, but quickly realized her Social Security income would not cover the expense.

“I was trying to do it on my own and paying for it,” she said. “But I’m on Social Security and $17 an hour is just too much money for me.”

Eventually, her neighbor was able to contact the Whatcom Volunteer Center’s Volunteer Chore program, which provides elderly and disabled individuals with a few hours of in-home help each week.

Program director Josie Presley said they were able to match Bartley’s needs with a team of Honor Society students from Meridian high school in Bellingham who were looking for a charitable project for “Make A Difference Day”.

The students paid a visit to Bartley’s Blaine home and cleaned for four hours, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and doing laundry.

“They each picked a room and started cleaning,” Bartley said. “They did everything; I was delighted.”

Bartley said the subsequent weekly volunteer visits helped her live more easily and have a better state of mind.

“It’s helped me so much psychologically to have a clean house,” she said. “It was horrible before.”

But Bartley is not alone. The program serves approximately 200 Whatcom County residents each year and boasts as many as 100 volunteers at any given time.

With funding provided mostly from the Northwest Regional Council, the City of Bellingham, as well as private and foundational funding, the program provides volunteers to help the elderly (60 and older) and adults with functional disabilities remain independent in their own homes.
Volunteers help with tasks such as housekeeping, shopping, laundry, yard work, essential transportation, minor household repairs and communications.

Presley added that because many clients are low income and would not be paying for the assisted living they might receive, the program saves roughly $50,000 of taxpayer money per year by keeping individuals at home.

The rewards of giving

Volunteering also provide a rewarding experience for volunteers such as Birch Bay resident Charlene, who wished to keep her last name anonymous.

Charlene, a retired refinery worker, said she had a long history of volunteering and learned about the Whatcom Volunteer Center through the United Way. She began working with Bartley about two months ago, helping primarily with vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, putting groceries away and taking out the trash. Then there’s the added benefit of providing an opportunity for social interaction.

“I’ve always had an interest in helping people,” she said. “And when I retired, one of the first things I wanted to do was more volunteer work. That, and DaLinda and I get along great.”
She added there is a perception by many in the area that charitable agencies in Bellingham don’t offer services to Blaine and Birch Bay. “That’s not true,” she said.

More information

Individuals interested in volunteering with the Whatcom Chore Program can email Presley at chore@whatcomvolunteer.org or 734-3055

Individuals 60 years of age and older who think they could benefit from the program’s services can call the Senior Information and Assistance hotline at 738-2500

Individuals younger than 60 years of age who think they could benefit from the program can call 734-3055.

The Northwest Senior Resources group, Pt. Townsend-based non-profit organization, also publishes a resource guide for low-income seniors and adults with disabilities. The guide is available at local senior centers or by calling 866/379-3710.

The Whatcom Volunteer Center’s web site is www.whatcomvolunteer.org.