Seniors Helping Seniors program recognized

NEW CUMBERLAND – Last week, on one of the coldest days of the year, an elderly Hancock County resident was stuck without water service because a water line had broken under his mobile home.

The man reached out to Hancock County Senior Services for help, and within hours, he had water again.

“I made two calls, and the matter was taken care of,” said agency Executive Director E. Mark Knabenshue.

Volunteers with the agency’s Seniors Helping Seniors program were dispatched to the man’s home and were able to aid with repairs. The program, the recent recipient of a national award, has been making life simpler for area seniors with home repair problems since January 2010.

“It’s to the point where I am receiving telephone calls nearly every day,” Knabenshue said.

Seniors Helping Seniors is the 2013 winner of the National Institute of Senior Centers’ Program of Excellence Award in the category of leadership, civic enhancement and community development. It was chosen from among 100 entries nationwide.

The program trains senior citizen volunteers with special skills and then matches them with seniors in need of help with basic home repair and maintenance. Staff at Hancock County Senior Services contact the volunteers and assign them to a particular job.

Seniors pay only for the materials used for the job. Labor, often the most expensive part of a job, is free, Knabenshue said.

Accounts have been established at area building supply companies so that volunteers can charge materials. Once a job is finished, the client signs the appropriate form and an invoice for materials is mailed by Hancock County Senior Services, Knabenshue said.

“Our volunteers are the key to the program’s success,” he said. “They are exceptional men – I call them princes of the earth.”

Most of the volunteers, known as Hard Hats, are retired steelworkers and have been certified in plumbing, electrical and carpentry by West Virginia Northern Community College.

When Knabenshue started the program three years ago, he contacted the college’s vice president for economic and work force development, J. Michael Koon, who put him in touch with Joe Copenhaver, director of the college’s Center for Excellence in Workplace Education. The center provides area companies with training programs and services.

“The next thing I knew, seven men were completing the first phase of the training,” Knabenshue said.

Knabenshue noted the need for such a program in Hancock County is growing as its population ages. According to the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, Hancock County has the second highest percentage of 90-year-olds still living independently and, with a median age of 45.3, the third-oldest population in the state.

“The demand is bound to be great,” he said.

Knabenshue will participate in a national web-based seminar on April 18 and will receive the award at the NISC’s national conference in Southbridge, Mass., in October.

“The board, staff and I are so proud of the program,” he said. “Our seniors are so deserving of all we can do for them. They have contributed so much to our communities; it’s the least we can do.”

For information about Seniors Helping Seniors, call (304) 564-3801.