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'Senior Companions' Give And Get, More Needed

Cali Beeson
Senior Companions and real life friends, Judy Allan and Alice McGraw.

Judy Allan and Alice McGraw are the poster kids for the Missoula Aging ServicesSenior Companion program. Their photo made a brochure, and when you meet them, you understand a bit better what this program is about.

"I can tell how wonderful it is being old and having a friend like Judy to do things with," says McGraw. "We do a lot of talking and visiting. She make me feel like my family is here."

The need, even just at McGraw's nursing home in Missoula, is great. A lot of people around her need help with shopping, she says.

"I try to talk them into Senior Companions because they can't get out at all," McGraw says.

"I could go on the van but when I went to the store, I couldn't see good enough to see the prices, I couldn't pick out a greeting card. I could make out the picture but couldn't see the verse. [Allan] reads the verses to me. I think a lot of people here could use Senior Companions if you could just talk them into it," McGraw says.

Montana Aging Services has their Senior Companions fill out forms. They ask questions like: What are your interests? What do you do? What do you not do? They match you on personalities and likes. It's kind of a science. They dig in and make sure companions are matchable. 

"I had just retired. And I basically needed something to get me out of the house," says Allan. "So, I checked into it, and I found out after I got into the program that it is very rewarding and fulfilling.  

"I have clients, it keeps me out of the house. I'm not just sitting around doing something," Allan says."I'm helping people go different places, go to their doctors appointments. It's just enjoyable. We laugh. Tease each other. It's just fun. In the summer a lot of times if she is feeling good we go to Out to Lunch Downtown. We will even go over here to Baskin' Robbins, have an ice cream cone and forget about the time."

The programhas been struggling to get volunteers for the past couple of months. Currently there are 33 Senior Companions and 12 seniors waiting for companions. Missoula Aging Services is trying to reach a broader demographic, and then the wait list might become even longer. That's one reason why McGraw, who's 86, and Allan, who's in her 50s, know they're lucky to have found each other.

"We got along right from the start," McGraw says. "She is a 49ers fan, and I'm a Steelers Fan. But that didn't matter, we didn't argue about football, we fit right in. It seemed like I knew her forever. She's just wonderful."

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