Friends for Life Celebrates 30 Years of Service
By Inez Russell
This month Friends for Life is celebrating 30 years of serving the elderly and people with disabilities. We are having an Open House on September 24th from 5 to 7 and we are saying thank you to other agencies, organizations and individuals who have helped us take care of people in need.
In September of 1989, Friends for Life began in a tiny one-room office, with one unpaid employee, and a budget of nothing. Now, by the grace of God, Friends for Life has grown and now resides in a wonderful 28,000 square foot facility at 5000 Lakewood Drive with offices in six other cities, eighty-five paid employees and a budget this year of three million dollars.
In the beginning, Friends for Life visited elderly people who were alone in hospitals and nursing homes. Those visiting programs have grown into Quality of Life Programs that include adopt a grandparent, telephone reassurance, Gifts for Grannies & Grandpas, too, and Friends for Thanksgiving. We look for ways to let people know we care and that they have someone they can call if they need help. When we were asked to visit people in their own homes, we learned that many needed more than a visit.
We found one lady living in the dark. She moved from room to room as the light bulbs burned out in her house and when the last one burned out, she was living in the dark. We started a light bulb changing program. Another agency asked us to help an elderly man whose porch was so rickety they thought volunteers might fall through if they brought him meals. We started a minor household repair program. An elderly woman became wheelchair bound and was stuck in her house for five years because she did not have a ramp. We started a ramp-building program. These programs grew into Independent Living Programs where volunteers are recruited and trained to help the elderly and people with disabilities live in their own homes as long as possible.
Each time we discovered a need, we tried to find another agency that provided that service so we could connect them to the person who needed their help. If we could not find another agency to provide the service, we figured out how to do it ourselves.
When he was found unconscious, an elderly man needed someone to sign for him to have medical care and Friends for Life was appointed to serve as his legal guardian.
Thirty years later, we are serving about 500 clients in 50 counties in Texas. Friends for Life has the third largest guardianship program in the state behind Harris County and the State of Texas. This program provides protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation, and insures these vulnerable people have food, clothing, medical care….someone to advocate for them and someone to care. When possible, we work with our guardianship clients to help them build capacity and return to court to request that the judge restore his or her rights.
In 1995, Friends for Life began a Money Management Program when asked to take care of an elderly widow who was about to be evicted because she had not paid her rent in a year. Most of the clients served through this program have been exploited. We make sure their bills are paid and that their money goes to their care.
Friends for Life took over the adult day care program in 2000 that was scheduled to close. Open 7:30am to 6pm, Monday through Friday, the Friends for Life Adult Day Care Center provides nursing care, activities, meals, transportation and more. Taking 4 field trips a week and celebrating holidays most people do not know exist (National Jelly Bean Day, Macaroni Day, National Cheesecake Day – they are big on food holidays). The clients are having a lot of fun….so much fun, in fact, that the facility is almost always at full capacity which is 120 people.
Two years ago, Friends for Life started a new program training adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to learn skills that will help them be more independent. Working one on one with them everyday for 2 hours made all the difference in the world. The overarching goal of the program is to help people move out of the nursing home and four of our clients have moved out of their nursing homes and back into the community. We are working with two more to do the same. And, all seem to have benefited so much from this individual attention.
I interviewed a Life Skills Training professional once who was not sure she could figure out how to help these clients. She prayed about it and the answer came to her. ‘Start with love’. In everything we do at Friends for Life, we try to start with love.
To learn more about Friends for Life, to volunteer or to make a donation to support this work, please visit our website at www.friendsforlife.org, call 254-772-7600 or come by our office at 5000 Lakewood Drive in Waco and we will give you a tour.
Inez Russell is the founder of Friends for Life and has served as its Executive Director for the last 30 years. She is certified in guardianship on a state and national level and is President of the Board of Directors of the National Volunteer Caregiving Network. Inez has lived in the Waco area most of her life. She is married and has four children and eleven grandchildren. Inez@friendsforlife.org, 254-772-8100 ext. 106