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Senior Companions: a Perfect Match

Program pairs older volunteers and people in need of assistance

"I've lost any number of them," Barth says sadly, recalling clients who have died. A favorite was a woman who walked about her 17-floor apartment house bent over at a 90-degree angle: "She was always in such pain, but she kept her sense of humor. She used to say she knew everybody in the building — by their shoes."

Headquarters for the 113 Senior Companions in New York is the East Side Settlement House. That's where they receive pre-service and in-service training and where they meet regularly with social workers to review their cases. The training covers such topics as tolerance, home safety, advance directives and paying attention to clients' body language. The classes are intended to help the Companions better deal with their own aging issues as well as prepare them for serving others.

Companions who satisfy income eligibility standards are paid $2.65 an hour. On a national level, there are 14,500 Companions in every state serving 61,000 clients. In most locations around the country, there is a waiting list of people who need to be served.

When Barth and Kenney sit on the park bench, they make an unlikely pair — Barth a hefty bear of a man, Kenney a slim ex-marathoner. "We talk," Kenney says. "We check out the squirrels, who come right up to us and beg. Together we watch the trees come into full bloom, the seasons change. You know, Roger has been wonderful to me and for me."

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