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Orlando Sentinel

Volunteer helps seniors 'thrive and prosper'

May 28, 2009
By Sara ShecKler
Special to the Sentinel

EUSTIS

When Sheila McCarthy moved to Eustis in 2006, she wanted to do volunteer work. So the former Bucks County, Pa., high-school teacher chose Florida's Department of Elder Affairs.

"I missed helping my students. I thought that this time I would help 'seniors' as in older people, rather than high-school seniors," McCarthy said.

According to E. Douglas Beach, Florida's Department of Elder Affairs secretary, more than 35,000 volunteers, most of them age 60 and older, help care for Florida's 4.3 million elderly residents.

Recently McCarthy and about 40 other volunteers from across the state were feted by Elder Affairs during the 13th Annual Golden Choices, a two-day celebration in St. Petersburg.

This is the second consecutive year McCarthy was picked.

"I am humbled that I have been chosen to receive this honor two years in a row," she said.

Volunteers received a Lucite trophy-and-plaque combination on a stand engraved with their names and the date of the award.

During the event, volunteers attended informational workshops on volunteering.

McCarthy has volunteered for Elder Affairs for almost two years.

"The volunteers help create an environment where seniors can thrive and prosper," Beach said.

McCarthy's volunteering covers the Withlacoochee district, which includes Lake and five other counties. Her duties include doing annual assessments of Florida-licensed nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult-care homes.

"We visit homes on a quarterly schedule to check that the residents in these facilities are being treated with respect and given proper care," she said.

Volunteers also investigate complaints made to Elder Affairs' central office in Ocala, verifying and then handling problems residents or their families have with facilities.

"I also have helped the Miami council with assessments because they have a lot of facilities and few volunteers. This is called a 'blitz,'" she said.

When a blitz is done, teams of volunteers and state workers go to the Miami area and spend a week doing facilities assessments.

As well as being a high-school teacher, McCarthy, who also volunteers at the Cat Protection Society's Resale Shop in Mount Dora, was a guidance counselor and substitute administrator in Pennsylvania public schools for 30 years