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Senior Companion Program
Fort Hays State University
600 Park Street
Hays, KS 67601
Phone: 785-628-5809
Fax: 785-628-4089
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Arleen Wittman

Wittman, Hays, said that the relationships she has developed through the Senior Companions program have been both beneficial and substantial to her life. Despite severe health battles and time away from her clients, Wittman said her friends at Senior Companions helped her get through it all.

Wittman grew up with her family in Pueblo, Colo. She graduated high school before entering the work force. While visiting family in Victoria, Kan., Wittman met her husband Wayne, who entered the service and relocated to Colorado Springs-a convenient 30 miles from Pueblo. They married in 1965 and recently celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.

Wittman worked in a variety of healthcare and clerical positions before she retired. It was during one of these jobs that she heard about Senior Companions. Senior Companion Board Member Howard Sloan was a proponent of the program and its benefits to both volunteers and clients. She became interested and after retirement in 2008, felt inclined to join.

Wittman said her time spent working in hospice care while she worked in health care increased her compassion for the loneliness many frail senior citizens experience.

Wittman found melanoma after two years with the Senior Companions program, which caused her to take time off to fight the disease and receive chemotherapy treatment. She said the six months she received chemo and then the time recovering was especially difficult, as she couldn't take care of herself or her clients.

Her husband and a close friend helped her through the battle and recovery, but she looked forward to returning to Senior Companions more than anything else. Wittman said she worried about her clients and how they would manage without her while she underwent treatment. She actively communicated with her clients throughout her medical leave. It was only after she returned to volunteering that Wittman found how much her clients truly cared for her. One client told Wittman that she wanted to take her place in chemotherapy so she could rejoin her late husband.

"[She said,] 'I kept wishing God would take me and leave you.' And you know that just destroyed me," Wittman said. "You know you meet the most different people; gracious, gracious [people]."

Her relationships with her clients have always been very meaningful, Wittman said, and have acted more as friendships than volunteer relationships. She said her work with Senior Companions has opened her eyes to the difficulties the frail elderly face when it comes to loneliness and independence.

"They're afraid to ask you to do anything," Wittman explained. "They're hard because they've done things themselves, the older people have had to."

Wittman found it difficult to put the impact that Senior Companions made in her life into words. She chalked it up to a rewarding feeling of fulfillment, as well as admiration for the lives of the people she cares for.

"You think, 'Boy, I did something good today,'" Wittman said with a smile. "You get a lot of joy from these people. I just can't explain how I feel."

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