The Guardian Angels of Ohio are always looking for people who want to make a difference.
"Our intent is to train volunteers in assisting older adults with personal disabilities. We are trying to supplement friends and family," Trumbull County Probate Judge Thomas A. Swift said.
Swift's court is the Superior Guardian of the Guardian Angels.
Ileene Rozich, 80, of Girard, who volunteers with Guardian Angels of Ohio, gets out of her car recently to conduct a visit with a client.
"We are trying to provide a type of outreach and friendship to the elderly of our community," Swift said.
The judge said that when he took office is 1979, he discovered that certain wards of the court were not being cared for properly.
A ward of the court is someone who is deemed to be incompetent to handle his or her own affairs. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 court-appointed wards in Trumbull County.
Meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Perkins Family Restaurant, 1953 Niles Cortland Road S.E., Bazetta.
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Some of them had no families or friends who visited. Others were bounced around from facility to facility.
"Some of them even died, and it was never reported to the court," Swift said.
Started in 1980, the Guardian Angels' first director was Susan Rebhan.
"I was hired to put the program together," Rebhan said. "The judge told me, 'Here's what we need, and here are the issues at hand.' It took me about a year to get my feet wet deciphering the needs of the community."
According to its mission statement, the purpose of the Guardian Angels of Ohio is to provide trained qualified volunteers to serve as friends and advocates to elderly Trumbull County residents.
The Trumbull County-based organization has been used as a role model in various other counties across the state. Most recently, Union County started a similar program.
The Guardian Angels visit wards in area rest homes and assisted living facilities.
"Most of our clients are in either an assisted living facility or a nursing home," volunteer coordinator Zoa Lyken said.
The Probate Court mandates that a written report must be submitted after each visit. On this report, the volunteers evaluate the client's cleanliness, abilities, physical status, sensory, mental and verbal responses, and eating habits.
The Angels will report on the mood of the ward, whether or not they believe the client would like to be visited more, and also on the facility itself. Is it clean? What is the temperature? Is there an odor?
If there are concerns, the Angel calls the court immediately.
"We want our clients connected to their past," said Lyken, a retired registered nurse and an experienced volunteer herself. "We try to match volunteers appropriately with facilities that are nearby."
The volunteers try to get the wards talking. The Angel usually calls ahead and speaks with either the head nurse or a social worker, gaining some background information.
Each ward is visited at least once a year.
Christine Marker, 38, said that a normal visit lasts about a half an hour. Marker, the mother of seven, has been an Angel for four years.
Marker also asks if the ward is jumpy or edgy. Before arriving, she needs to know if the ward likes to be touched or not.
"You get a wide range," Marker said. "I have had clients on ventilators who cannot talk. I have had ones who get around real well. And I have had those in between."
"A lot of times, they look at me strange," she said. "I am sure they are wondering who I am and what do I want from them."
The volunteers do not assist the clients physically in any way. They may run light errands, however. By providing a friendly visitor and companionship, "we are trying to make their lives a little better," Lyken said.
Ileene Rozich, 80, of Girard, has been a Guardian Angel since 2003. She visits 13 clients in four facilities.
"Volunteering gives me a reason to get up in the morning. It is amazingly satisfying for me," Rozich said.
The Angels are trained in how to deal with various types of elderly contacts.
"Is the person cognitive? Is he not cognitive? We teach them how to listen," said Lyken.
A volunteer must submit an application, supply three references and go through a background check in addition to the training.
Currently, there are about 25 Guardian Angels of Ohio, ranging in age from 30 to 80.
The volunteers do more than just court-ordered visits. They are involved in various health fairs in the community. During Easter, they filled and delivered more than 500 packages to area nursing homes. They assisted on National Kids to Work Day. And, at the Niles and Warren Relay For Life events, they sold raffle tickets. The winner received a day of rest by having an Angel attend to their loved one for a day. All the proceeds were donated to the American Cancer Society.