In recognition of A Helping Hand's ongoing service to the community, Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf declared Sunday "A Helping Hand Day."
The local senior citizen assistance organization celebrated its fifth anniversary by honoring student and community volunteers and examining its history and success.
The anniversary celebrated the organization's commitment to aiding the elderly, the disabled and their families, often by methods overlooked by other service groups.
"Providing companionship and relief care is a unique type of service that other agencies just don't provide," said David Kelly, a UNC professor and member of A Helping Hand's board of directors.
Cathy Ahrendsen, the organization's founder and executive director, used the festivities to recognize volunteer services, while clients told of how the organization improved their lives. The Carolina Style tap dance troupe provided entertainment.
Volunteers from A Helping Hand cook meals, give rides to clients and a break to the full-time caregivers. The volunteers' service allows caretakers a little time to get away from their responsibilities or to run errands more easily.
But some volunteers say the most important service they provide is their company. "It's sort of halfway between housekeeping and medical services," Kelly said.
Ahrendsen said she owes most of the success of the scale for respite care services to volunteers, 90 percent coming from UNC.
"One reason it has been so successful is that there have been so many great people from Carolina."
Paige Rodgers, a senior journalism major, is a student volunteer. As such, she said she writes press releases for the organization and works in the office. She will receive a certificate for completing an internship of 50 hours of service.
"It's real easy to get 50 hours because there is so much to do," she said.
At the event, client Elizabeth Glass told the assembly how the organization and its volunteers helped her family care for her severely disabled mother.
"The most important thing I discovered was how important it was to have a break, just to go to the grocery store without worrying about a wheelchair with a wobbly wheel," she said.
The organization's service record dates back to 1995, when Ahrendsen founded A Helping Hand almost by accident. After she was hired to help care for Elizabeth Austin, some of Austin's elderly neighbors asked Ahrendsen if it were possible to get the same services for themselves.
"Five years ago, I had no idea that we would have 60 clients and 40 people on our waiting list," Ahrendsen said. "Mrs. Austin was my inspiration to go on and do this full time."
Soon Ahrendsen was meeting seniors who needed service but were unable to pay. Kelly said he organized a sliding fee scale to offer services to a wider audience.
"The other thing that's core to (A Helping Hand) is to provide care to people whether they can pay for it or not. The rate goes right down to zero."
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