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Volunteers needed: A chance to help those who cannot help themselves

Managing editor

The definition of a “guardian” is a person who guards, protects, or preserves; a protector; a defender.”

The name accurately describes volunteers who serve the Kansas Guardianship Program.

These volunteers accept legal and moral responsibility of the well-being of people who are unable to manage for themselves.

“Our clients are referred from Adult Protective Services or from state psychiatric hospital social workers,” said Del Jacobson, volunteer recruiter.

When a pilot project began 30 years ago, the state-funded program primarily assisted people mostly with developmental disabilities. Today, in addition to adults with developmental disabilities, volunteers also serve those who are mentally ill, elderly, and those with medical conditions or have injuries, which impair their ability to make decisions.

Guardian volunteers are advocates for their “wards” or clients.

Pat Allnut of rural Hillsboro has an understanding of what a person is going through because she has a chronic illness that sometimes limits her physical mobility.

She has been involved with the program for more than six years.

A friend of Allnut’s retired the same time she did and suggested she become a volunteer.

“I realized there are so many people who have no families, no friends, nobody to help make decisions,” she said. “They need someone they can count on.”

One of the “privileges” Allnut has had is being with a ward at his time of death so he did not have to die alone.

“As a volunteer, I’ve become a part of their family,” Allnut said. “I can see joy in their faces that they have a friend, someone they can count on.”

For Allnut, it is no imposition and it is not difficult to be a volunteer.

The volunteers sometimes are responsible for making the necessary arrangements for a client when they die. State funds are available to assist those who may not have the financial means to pay for a proper funeral and burial.

“I write checks (from their checking accounts) and pay their nursing home bills and just make sure they have everything they need,” said Edna Andres of rural Peabody.

She has been a volunteer for 20 years. Andres became involved after her children grew up and left home. As a Christian, she wanted to help those who cannot help themselves.

“Some have no families,” Andres said, “or their families do not live in the area.”

She serves three clients. They reside in nursing homes in Peabody. Regular visits a few times a month and telephone contact are important to her.

There are two services these volunteers provide — guardian and conservator.

A guardian manages a ward’s personal health, safety, and welfare and a conservator manages the person’s property or “estate,” such as money and personal and real property.

“I watch to make sure wards don’t go over their (spending) limits,” Andres said. For those receiving Social Security or Medicaid benefits, recipients may spend up to $60 per month for personal items.

She continued that for some adults with mental illness, it is best that families do not take care of the ill person’s business because it can further exacerbate the situation.

LaDonna Sherbert of Marion has been a volunteer for a few years. She became involved because of her job with SRS when it was located in Marion.

She assisted an elderly woman in Marion while an SRS employee, and found the work satisfying.

“While working for SRS, I realized the significant number of people who need guardians,” she said. Later, Sherbert was asked to volunteer. Currently she has two wards.

“I believe my job is to make sure my wards are receiving the (nursing home) services they need,” Sherbert said.

Her clients also are in Peabody nursing homes. One does not have family in the area, so it is her job to make sure he has everything he needs.

Like other volunteers, Sherbert takes her responsibility seriously.

“It’s a big job, sometimes with tough decisions,” she said, particularly if a ward needs to be moved from a nursing home.

Become a volunteer

Confidentiality is one of the key requirements of volunteers. Volunteers must hold in strictest confidential all personal and business information received or accessed regarding the ward or conservatee. Information will be divulged only to those directly connected with the ward, and then only on a need-to-know basis to further their wishes or in the best interest of the ward.

All volunteers are screened, require references, and are formally interviewed.

Training is available for new volunteers and ongoing training and consultation are available for veteran volunteers.

Before a volunteer accepts a ward, there is a face-to-face meeting and both parties must agree. After a volunteer agrees to work with a specific individual, Kansas Guardianship Program notifies SRS that the volunteer is willing to be nominated to the court as the proposed guardian or conservator.

A $30 per month stipend is provided to each volunteer for out-of-pocket expenses.

For more information, contact Jacobsen at (800) 672-0086, ext. 17, or by e-mail at djacobsen@ksgprog.org.

“All you have to do is be a friend,” Allnut said, “and have compassion and a heart. It’s simple and so rewarding.”

Last modified April 8, 2009

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