Home Instead, volunteers play Santa for Valley seniors

Staff report


Christmas is just 12 days away, but it’s come early to the Home Instead Senior Care center.

Home Instead’s “Be a Santa to a Senior” program is in high gear to make sure some area senior citizens, who may have been forgotten this year, get a Christmas to remember.

The staff has been collecting gifts for three weeks, having received names of those in need from agencies such as Guardian Angels of Ohio — Trumbull County Probate Court, Catholic Charities and Hands on Volunteer Network, as well as many nursing homes. People were chosen who don’t have much — or have no family left to visit with them.

Home Instead puts their names on ornaments to hang from Christmas trees that are put in various locations. Community members then pick a name or two and buy the present for that individual. This year, 691 names were received and put on the Christmas trees.

Dottie Johntony, operations manager, has been with the program since it started 10 years ago and knows the feeling of giving can never be topped.

“It is a rewarding feeling to know that you are doing something for someone who has been forgotten,” said Johntony. “A lot of these seniors have outlived their friends or have family that is not so close anymore. We have the chance to make sure they don’t feel so lonely and get to feel special again.”

If a name is not picked, then Home Instead will make sure that individual still gets a gift. The care center welcomes donations throughout the year to make sure there will be enough joy for everyone.

All the gifts will be delivered throughout next week by the agencies who have provided the names.

During the first year of the program, 200 seniors were given gifts, and since then the number has been as high as 800.

Home Instead Senior Care Corp. started this program as a way for the franchise to give back to its communities. There are nearly 1,000 Home Instead Senior Care centers, and the majority get into the spirit of giving.

The hallways of the center in Austintown were filled with gifts, cookies, wrapping paper and enough volunteers to make Santa’s workshop jealous.

Key Club members from the Chaney school in Youngstown have been helping the program for the last five years.

“They are just wonderful kids,” said Sandy Hoziak, Key Club leader. “They are seeing that these people are just asking for basic needs such as shaving cream or gloves, not the new Xbox or iPhone. It is helping them learn about a generation that they have not been exposed to all that often and appreciate it.”

Chaney puts up a tree at the school where staff members, school clubs and students can pick a name and buy a gift.

“It really puts us in the Christmas spirit,” said student Erica Pryor.

Also volunteering were some retired teachers who wanted to make sure their thanks to the gift donors were heard.

“Their generosity has encouraged all the volunteers to become more generous, not just during the holiday season, but in their everyday lives,” said retiree Cathy Bertelli. “We are having a wonderful time helping this program and want everyone to know how this has brought out so much good in people.”

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