Volunteers spread holiday cheer to Ramona’s elderly living alone
By Dixie Pettit
Senior Volunteer Patrol members assigned to San Diego County Sheriff’s Ramona Substation added some extra holiday cheer as they delivered gift bags to some of the elderly and disabled Ramona residents registered in the You Are Not Alone (YANA) program.
Volunteers Gerrie Griffin and Wally Jewel loaded up 26 brightly-colored bags into a patrol car to provide “a little something” to each person under the protective wings of these home-town guardian angels.
“Gerrie did all the hard work,” Jewel said as they made their rounds last Thursday.
“Nah!” denied Griffin, “Barbara (Wallace, crime prevention specialist at the sheriff’s Ramona station) did all the work. I just made a few calls.”
Even Wallace gave the credit to others.
“Actually, the gifts were made possible by the First Congregational Church of Ramona, the Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church Men’s Ministry, Grace Community Church, and Brownie Troop 8009 made the cards for each of the bags,” she said.
The staff at the Ramona substation also contributed.
“Gerrie spreads the word,” said Wallace. “Area churches and the (substation) employees make contributions of their own money to get the bags together.”
According to Wallace, the bags have trinkets in them such as notepads, pens, cookies, flashlights with batteries, “and we even gave them jewelry…I put in some candy necklaces!”
When asked if there was an item not in the bag and perhaps needed by some of the residents, Wallace was quick to point out many of the people enrolled in the YANA program have pets. “Dog food – that and cat food. Many of them have pets as their only source of companionship during the day. They always need pet food.”
On just about any given day while driving Ramona streets, one is bound to see a “senior volunteer” in a patrol vehicle. From vacation security checks to health and welfare checks for the elderly or disabled, 28 volunteers provide a safety net that would otherwise be too time-consuming for the day-to-day demands of law enforcement personnel.
With fewer than 30 staff members responsible for “law enforcement services to nearly 40,000 residents in Ramona and covering an area of over 150 square miles,” the volunteers are “truly priceless,” said Wallace.
“If you were to add up the hours they put in and try to put a dollar amount on it, it would be — nope you just couldn’t do it,” said Wallace, adding, “thousands, tens of thousands.”
The quality and type of personal service the volunteers provide is worth much more than a number, she said. “A dollar amount would not do (them) justice. They are invaluable.”
Established in San Diego County nearly 18 years ago, the Senior Volunteer Program plays an integral support role in maintaining the safety of the citizens.
“These people save lives and support public safety overall,” states Melissa Aquino, public affairs officer for the sheriff’s department. “The YANA program has helped our shut-ins receive emergency services.”
Griffin provided an example.
“There was this one lady I remember didn’t answer her scheduled phone call,” he said. “We sent a patrol over there immediately and found she had fallen early that morning and was on the floor. She had one of those Life Alerts (medical alert neck buttons) but had never pushed it. I said, ‘Adrian, why didn’t you push your Life Alert?’ and she just looked at me and said ‘Gerrie, I knew you guys would come and get me.’ THAT is when it really hit home for me. These people know we are here for them. They know there is always somebody making sure they are all right.”
The program is comprised of people over the age of 50 who are asked to volunteer a minimum of six hours a week. While Jewel is fairly new to the program with only a year, Griffin has been on patrol for six years and is “going to get my 3,000 hour star for volunteer time.”
Aquino asks the public to be proactive in determining services available to them as well as identifying people who might benefit from taking advantage of the extra safety net.
“The YANA program is free to seniors who live alone,” she said. “We call them every day to see if they need anything. If we don’t hear from them, we go for a visit to make sure they are OK. We also do regular visits if they want to, just for a chat.
“So many people in the community aren’t even aware of everything that is available to everyone for free. There isn’t any charge to become a part of these programs, but people do need to ask. Maybe it is a friend or a neighbor you know that could utilize the services, maybe it is a loved one who lives alone.”
Volunteers do safety checks and vacation checks for those who are out of town.
“The people in the community have this great resource,” said Aquino. “We just need to get the word out.”
As Griffin and Jewel ring the first doorbell of the day, the door is opened wide and the gentlemen are welcomed by name.
“Gerrie! Wally! Merry Christmas!” declared a beaming Charlotte. “It is so good to see you. Thank you so much!”
Last names of YANA participants are not included for their safety, since they live alone, said Aquino.
The next two doors opened with the same enthusiastic greeting. Offers of chocolate and refreshments are politely declined as the volunteers have more than two dozen visits to go.
One by one each resident is handed a present, but the best gift seems to be that of caring. These frail and elderly Ramonans living by themselves sleep better at night knowing they are not alone.
“It’s like being a thrillionaire,” said Wallace.
Volunteers undergo a background check, receive training and are asked to work a minimum of six hours per week. Volunteers are always needed.
To enroll in YANA or to become a volunteer, call 760-789-9157 and ask for a senior volunteer.
- Sheriff’s Senior Patrol volunteers to deliver holiday baskets
- Volunteers conduct free vacation checks
- Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol volunteers, part of Ramona’s safety net
- Sheriff’s Department needs senior volunteers
- Living life second by second
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