• August 29, 2014

Program provides lifeline for seniors

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 4:30 am

BELTON — Seniors who live alone don’t have to be on their own. Instead, they can sign up for check-in calls through a program sponsored by the police department.

The R-U-OK Senior Program is free, and since it began last year in April, the number of participants has grown exponentially from one to 24 people. A rotating staff of volunteers takes turns phoning each enrolled senior, so everyone receives a call once a week.

Volunteer Nancy Kelsey works a Wednesday morning shift at the police station. With her list of seniors at the ready, she systematically dials the numbers of the participants to make sure each one is OK. “A lot of seniors live alone. ... They appreciate that the police department is calling.”

Police Chief Gene Ellis said he decided to begin the program, which some other Texas cities were using, after he met Belton seniors who lived alone and needed a hand, but had no one to help them.

He recalled one woman living in a home with no heat. An officer went to the house to put plastic on the windows, a chore the woman could not complete by herself.

“She really illustrated the need of people living alone who need checking,” he said.

Kelsey said she chose the R-U-OK program from among other community volunteer opportunities because she has a special concern about the plight of seniors who no longer have friends or family.

“A lady died in her house and was there about two weeks before anyone knew,” Kelsey said. “Her cats died because no one was feeding them. The neighbors found her when they went to check on her.”

People also appreciate having someone to chat with when a volunteer calls, Kelsey said.

However, those who don’t like small talk can simply tell the volunteer that they are OK before going about their day.

If someone said he or she needs help, the volunteer gets in touch with the appropriate people. If no one answers, or the volunteer hears a busy signal, the volunteer tries again. No answer a second time means an officer is sent to the home.

Volunteers are trained before they are allowed to work in the R-U-OK program, Ellis said. The ranks of volunteers are growing, along with the number of seniors enrolling in the program. Ellis said he hopes the R-U-OK Senior Program can begin providing calls to seniors two or three times a week. Even though the program advertises itself as a service for seniors, Ellis said people don’t have to be 65 years old or older to enroll.

“It’s not just for the elderly, but for those in need,” he said.

People who want to enroll in R-U-OK may fill out a form at the police department or at www.beltontexas.gov/index.aspx?nid367.

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