Caring companions

CNJ Staff Photo: Andy DeLisle
Wanda Beavers, right, 79, of Clovis, gets help with her daily activities from senior companion Nadine Fixler, left. Fixler is taking over for Beavers’ regular companion while she recovers from knee surgery.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ Staff Writer

Senior companions help their clients run errands. They alert doctors and relatives about health conditions. They act as caregivers when the need arises.

Something else happens with senior companions — almost as an unwritten rule. They become friends.

“I’ll (schedule some companions) from 8 a.m. to noon, but it doesn’t stop at noon,” said Judy Griego, director of the Senior Companion programs in Roosevelt and Curry counties. “They’ll go and see them on the weekend, they go to church together.”

Senior companions are healthy older adults who help other adults live independently. According to Griego, a group of 22 senior companions — 16 in Clovis, six in Portales — serve clients in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Sometimes a client has a temporary medical condition, such as a broken bone from an accident. However, in most cases, a client just doesn’t want to live in a nursing home or have a full-time caregiver, but needs a little help to get through the day.

Wanda Beavers is the latter. Beavers, 79, has two senior companions. One takes her to dialysis treatments, which Beavers said she prefers to riding public transportation to make medical appointments.

The other companion helps her with cooking, cleaning and other household chores.

“When you’re in my position and you can’t get up much, it’s a great thing,” Beavers said from her plush, purple reclining chair.
Not every senior companion has duties such as those who work with Beavers, but qualifications for all companions are the same.
Senior companions must be at least 60 years old, have a limited income, and complete a background check and 40 hours of training.

Nadine Fixler said applying to be a senior companion was one of the first things she did when she moved to Clovis two years ago from Mobile, Ala.

“You get out of the house,” said Fixler, who worked with about 125 other senior companions in Mobile. “I’m kind of a drifter, so I get to meet people very fast.”

The age requirement does make it harder to find candidates — Griego said she feels terrible when she has to tell an otherwise qualified 58-year-old to wait a few years — but clients and companions alike said it makes the relationship easier by eliminating a generation gap.

“There’s much more to talk about if you (grew up at the same time) and you have grandchildren,” Griego said. “They have a lot in common.”

Often, there’s little age difference at all. Jean Smith, 75, spends afternoons as a senior companion for Eve Denison, 76.

Smith, who ran a daycare center for 35 years and was a cook at various restaurants throughout Clovis, said she spends afternoons cooking and doing light errands for Denison.

However, she admits she doesn’t feel like she’s working when she and Denison have conversations about gardening and anything else that comes up.

“I was by myself and wanted something to get me out of the house,” Smith said. “I love people, so this was the way to go.”

Being a senior companion also helps financially. Griego said senior companions are paid a small stipend. The money, about $100 a week, doesn’t impact eligibility for insurance and medical programs, but helps provide for small expenses around the house.

“Sometimes you feel like you really work, but some weeks go by and you feel like you’re ripping somebody off,” Fixler said with a laugh.