ESCANABA - Cheryl Corbiere has only been a Foster Grandparent for less than a year but she's already making a difference in the lives of five area seniors.
"I've wanted to be a Senior Companion volunteer for some time, but I was originally told you have to wait until you're 60 in order to qualify," said Cheryl, who signed on as a volunteer in May 2010. "So when I turned 60 last year, I applied only to be told that the rule had been changed. Now you can qualify when your 55." She laughed as she added, "I wish I had known that sooner."
Although Cheryl has four other Companions, her greatest challenge came after she was matched with Loyola Gardner, who suffers from two degenerative eye diseases, both of which led to her total blindness four years ago. (See related story in today's edition of "The Active Life.)"
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Senior Companion Cheryl Corbiere, at left, has been paired up with her new Companion, Loyola Gardner, center, since June. Viewing the ladies together for the first time is Senior Companion Director Connie Maule. The Senior Companion Program is sponsored by the Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Community Action Agency.
Cheryl was matched with Loyola in June by Senior Companion Supervisor Noreen Corwin and right from the start, Cheryl was impressed with Loyola's independence despite her handicap.
"Noreen matched us up because we both like music and because I knew how to crochet," Cheryl explained. The pair are frequent attendees to area concerts and dances. "We both love music and I try to take Loyola out whenever I can. Whenever Loyola and I go out to a dance and polkas are being played, she's practically the first one on the dance floor and she's dancing every dance."
"I'll go anytime," Loyola laughed. "If anyone wants to take me, I'm more than willing to go."
Cheryl spends time with Loyola each Monday, Wednesday and Friday and she assists her Companion in many practical areas as well, including labeling clothing and items in Loyola's cupboards. The pair also make lunch together about once a week.
One of the ways Cheryl has helped Loyola is to improve her ability to crochet, a hobby Loyola has enjoyed since she was a young girl.
"I watched her as she crocheted and I noticed that she was putting her hook in the same hole time after time," Cheryl said. "I started helping to feel her way across the row and to keep track of the number of stitches she was making and that helped a lot."
Cheryl is also involved in locating a distributor for wood fiber products so she can teach Loyola to craft flowers.
"I would really like to learn how to make roses," Loyola said. "I think I could learn to do that. I used to own a craft store in Lansing so I've always been involved in crafting."
Although she's only been a Companion for a short time, Cheryl said she finds the involvement "rewarding."
"It just takes a little time to get to know each other," she said. "Loyola and I hit it off right away and she does so much for herself I almost forget she's blind. I have to remind myself when we go anywhere to tell her 'there's a step here' or something is on her right or left. I also have to be careful not to move her cane. That's definitely a no-no."
Connie Maule, director of the Senior Companion Program for the Community Action Agency, expressed pleasure when she watched the rapport between Cheryl and Loyola for the first time.
"They both seem so easy going and seem to enjoy each other's company so much," she said.
Although Companions usually have pre-determined hours to spend together, Maule said the program is flexible enough to make allowances for special occasions, such as when Cheryl and Loyola attend musical concerts or dances together.
"The Companions also know they can call on their volunteer any time they have a special need," Maule said. "They form a friendship that's good for both of them. It's nice when we see them feeling good about each other and bonding together."