Seniors Home Alone Find Phone Is Lifeline


April 11, 1991|By Jennifer Keats | Jennifer Keats,Contributing writer

Glen Burnie resident Gordon Seasholtz is responsible for saving at least one person's life.

Seasholtz is one of 25 volunteers in the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging's Telephone Reassurance program. The volunteers, all over 60, spend seven mornings a week on the phone, making calls to each of the more than 200 seniors who live alone.

Last year, Seasholtz, 73, was making one of his routine calls to a women on his list. "She would always pick it up on the first ring but the phone rang and rang," he said. If the senior cannot be reached, the volunteers have instructions to call a neighbor or relative to make sure the client is all right.

Seasholtz, a retired purchasingagent, consulted the sheet in front of him containing the woman's complete medical history and list of people to contact in case she could not be reached. When he couldn't reach the woman's daughter, Seasholtz dialed 911.

Seasholtz learned the woman had suffered a heart attack and help had arrived within five minutes of his call. A paramedic commended Seasholtz for being so alert. Quick thinking had saved the woman's life.

"I still talk to her today. She's thanked me a million times," he said.

Yvonne Hicks, the Department of Aging's director of Retired Senior Volunteer Program, said a senior's children or friends may put a senior's name on the calling list. Then, each morning, between 7:30 and 10 a.m. two volunteers man the department's phones. One volunteer takes incoming calls and the other calls homebound seniors. Last year, 32,950 outgoing calls were made and the department received 16,543.

Two years ago, Ruth Hoffman, 79, learned thatthe Telephone Reassurance program, nicknamed the senior lifeline by the volunteers, was desperate for volunteers. Although the Glen Burnie resident is busy with many other activities, including singing withthe American Association of Retired Persons group, The Notables, Hicks said Hoffman often substitutes for other volunteers when they are unable to come in.

Hicks makes the calls when volunteers are unavailable. Since calls also are made on holidays, Hicks usually spends Christmas morning making sure everything is OK with her clients.

"It's a good policy for people who live alone," said Hoffman, who recently received the Unsung Hero's Award from the AARP for outstanding service.

A retired secretary, Hoffman has been responsible for helping at least two clients receive needed medical attention.

Annapolis resident Carrie Dickerson, 66, became a client of Telephone Reassurance when her friend called the department and put her on the list. "It's a great service, one of the best in the country," said Dickerson, whose nickname is "Sweet Thing."

"When you're a senior and you live alone, you might go to bed well but wake up sick," said Dickerson. A volunteer calls her each morning about 7:40 a.m.

"I want to meet those people. I'd like to visit. They're just so fantastic. If youfeel bad, they try to make you feel better," she said.

Recently, the department sent out photographs of the volunteers because clientswanted to see the faces of people they talk to almost every day.

A bulletin board in the Department of Aging's office is covered with thank-you letters for the program and pictures.

Telephone Reassurance is one of many programs within the Retired Senior Volunteer Programs of the Department of Aging. More than 600 volunteers are involvedin 64 sites, including BWI Airport. Those interested in volunteering, call Yvonne Hicks, 222-6825.

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