“This is my angel on earth here,” says Henri Ann Buford as she puts an arm around Maureen Carney. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Carney visits the 85-year-old Buford every Tuesday as a volunteer with Catholic Community Services’ Volunteer Chore Services program.
Some days, Carney cleans the Kent resident’s apartment. Other days, she’ll run out for groceries or pick up Buford’s prescription at the pharmacy.
“Whatever Henri needs,” Carney said, describing her weekly efforts as “just the everyday things that make it easier” for Buford to remain independent.
And that’s what Volunteer Chore Services (VCS) is all about – providing helping hands to keep elderly and disabled adults in their own homes.
The service matches volunteers with local seniors or disabled adults needing a little help with small tasks they can no longer do themselves. Yard work. Laundry. Grocery shopping.
Volunteers can pick what sort of work they’d like to do, and can give as much or as little time as they wish, according to VCS regional coordinator Kizzie Funkhouser.
“I have one woman who does an hour and a half a month. She takes one woman to the grocery store. I have another woman who does 20 hours a month,” said Funkhouser. “It’s extremely flexible.”
And while the program is offered through the Catholic Church, there’s no requirement for either volunteers or clients to be Catholic. The main requirement for volunteers, Funkhouser said, is “being compassionate and flexible. A lot of our clients are really suffering through a grief process, as they’ve lost things that they used to be able to do.”
In the south King County area, VCS serves about 100 clients per month. Another 100 are still on a waiting list, Funkhouser said.
To make sure that those with the greatest need get help, the program only accepts clients who live independently, and who meet the age and income criteria: 65 or older (18 or older with a disability), with a maximum monthly income of about $1,000 for an individual or $1,500 for a couple.
“We’re trying to act as a safety net” for people who have no other source of help, said Funkhouser.
Carney, a Renton resident, has been volunteering with VCS for a year and a half. She started volunteering after receiving a challenge from her church to give of herself more. But there’s another reason, too, she said.
“My father went through a very hard illness, and I saw him basically struggle to live an independent life,” Carney said. “He lived down in California, so I couldn’t spend as much time with him as I would have liked.”
By volunteering with VCS, Carney said, she’s doing for others what she would have wanted others to do for her father – what she would have done herself, if she could have.
“It’s my mother’s biggest fear. She doesn’t want go to an assisted-living facility,” Carney said.
Buford nodded. “It means so much to live on my own,” she said. “I’ve still got my brain. I can still think. She (Carney) does the rest of it — gives me something to wake up the next day for.”
Buford has been on her own for 14 years, since the death of her husband. A couple years ago, she moved into a senior housing complex in downtown Kent, after the cost and effort of maintaining a house became too much for her. She has some family in the area, but no one near enough to help with the day-to-day chores that are more than she can handle alone.
“I couldn’t do it by myself,” she said.
As much as possible, Funkhouser said, VCS tries to match volunteers one on one with clients from their own community and then keep them paired long-term. With the long-term volunteer relationship, she said, “there’s a sense of really making a difference for an individual.”
Carney can testify to the truth of that. She has visited Buford every week now for a year and a half, and the affection between the two women is obvious.
“I get more than I give,” Carney said of her relationship with Buford.
“She’s been so kind to me,” Buford said. “She’s so tender-hearted.”