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April 22, 2014

Sandy Ladd (left) and Carolena Trees (right) enjoy the recent Senior Fair put on by Union County Senior Services. The pair have been matched by Union County Guardianship Services, a new United Way Partner Agency, so that Ladd can help Trees with day-to-day decisions and activities.
Three or four times a week, Sandy Ladd stops by Carolena’s house to visit. She takes her shopping. Goes with her to doctor’s appointments. They eat lunch together. Ladd is more than a good neighbor to a senior citizen suffering from dementia. She’s a volunteer for Union County Guardianship Services.

“It fills my heart with joy,” Ladd said. “It just gives me a sense of purpose to be able to help someone who doesn’t expect it. She doesn’t expect me to visit her, or go and fix her hair or, do some yard work. And in return, she gives me so much love. Her eyes light up and she’s just so happy that I’m there.”

For the last 11 months, Ladd has served as Carolena’s co-guardian. This court-appointed arrangement matches a volunteer, like Ladd, with a vulnerable adult, like Carolena, who lacks the capacity to make personal or financial decisions on their own because of dementia, mental illness, or developmental disability. A guardian makes daily life decisions for their client, including where they live, medical care, and activities.

”You cannot be a person’s legal guardian if you are not a resident of the state,” said Sally Leathernan, Executive Director of Union County Guardianship Services. “So in some cases, even though the local resident may have active and involved family members, since they live out of state they may need to have a guardian from our program.

“You form an emotional bond. You get to know them. They get to know you. A lot of times, these people haven’t had that type of relationship in years, and they get to trust you. As a guardian, you need to make decisions in their best interests and as they would want them to be made. You talk with them and their family members and find out what they need and want. Then you try your hardest to abide by what they’ve shared with you.”

Cole and Duanitta Oates.
As Carolena’s dementia worsens, Ladd and her co-guardian may have to make the difficult decision to move her to a local nursing home.

“I’m not just by myself, I have a lot of help,” Ladd says. “Her co-guardian helps out as well. The attorney is there. Sally is there. Staff from Union County Senior Services is there. And they are all so kind and knowledgeable.”

United Way recently awarded Union County Guardianship Services a $1,000 grant and Partner Agency status, ensuring future funding via the annual fall campaign.

Since it was founded in 2011, Union County Guardianship Services has grown to service 120 clients, only 43 percent of whom are senior citizens. The organization recently added a pair of part-time social workers to handle the more challenging situations, but still relies on volunteers for the vast majority of clients. Volunteer applicants must provide five references and undergo a criminal background check. When approved, they are asked to visit with their client at least twice a month and serve as legal guardian until circumstances change, such as a family member stepping back into the client’s life, a move to another state, or death.

There is also a Volunteer Friendship Program which Leatherman likened to a “Big Brothers Big Sisters” for adults. Without the legal component, volunteers take time to regularly visit with seniors to talk, help answer the mail or make phone calls with them to help them avoid getting scammed.

“There are so many people in our area who don’t have family to care for them, because they work, are out of state, or have forgotten their family members,” said Ladd, who became aware of the program when seeking respite care for her aging mother last year. “There are seniors in their homes who need someone to visit them. To say ‘hello.’ To take them for a walk. Just so they can see another smiling human face, know that someone cares and that they’re not left out. They want to see people. And as a community, we need to connect with them. It’s our responsibility.”

Those interested in finding out more about Union County Guardianship Services may call (937) 645-3041 or visit www.ucvgp.org.

United Way works to bring neighbors and resources together to improve lives in Union County. United Way of Union County has raised more than $18 million for local needs since it was established in 1958. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with local businesses, government, and non-profit organizations to solve pressing social service issues large and small.

For more information, please visit www.unitedwayofunioncounty.org.
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