Fort Washington seniors get helping hand

Volunteer group offers free trips to doctor, shopping

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005


Click here to enlarge this photo
Allison Pasek⁄The Gazette
Daughter for the Day Sonsia Star (right) helps Gladys Handy into her doctor’s office in Fort Washington. Star has been volunteering as a Daughter for the Day for a month.



Gladys Handy of Fort Washington has substitute daughters.

A resident of an assisted living facility, and with no family nearby, Handy relies on volunteers from Daughter for the Day, Inc., to take her to doctor’s appointments and on shopping trips.

But she also gets a bonus—those substitute daughters become companions.

On Tuesday morning, Soncia Star of Fort Washington escorted Handy to a doctor’s appointment and the grocery store, delivering her safely after the previous evening’s snowfall.

‘‘I’m really on my own,” Handy said, explaining that volunteers are truly concerned about helping and staying in touch with seniors. ‘‘It’s really a client-centered program.”

Tonja Lark, who founded the nonprofit program, said it has been running for about six months and applications are pouring in from area seniors who need extra assistance with shopping, general transportation and visits to the doctor.

‘‘I started it because of my grandmother,” said Lark, who was born and raised in Temple Hills. Lark said that she would go shopping and to lunch with her grandmother, routinely visiting the older woman until she died.

‘‘It was just our fun time,” she said.

Lark, who has another job in addition to working as program founder and volunteer, said she realized some seniors have financial difficulties and unreliable transportation. ‘‘I wanted them to have a daughter,” she said, adding that services are free to those who are enrolled. ‘‘I want to help as many seniors as possible.”

For more information about Daughter for the Day, Inc., visit www.daughterfortheday.org or call Tonja Lark at 866-5-SENIOR.
Star, who volunteers regularly, said she can also remember caring for her grandmother and other older relatives. ‘‘I’m a Christian, and I believe [in the axiom], ‘To be blessed is to be a blessing,’” she said. ‘‘It makes you feel good that you can help someone else.”

Lark said all volunteers wear uniforms and are carefully chosen. They must go through a background investigation before working with the program because of the sensitive nature of some outings.

Volunteers, she said, currently help about 200 seniors across the region. Volunteers notify Lark when they are available, and Lark schedules appointments based on their availability.

Lark also said there are about 95 seniors on the waiting list, and she constantly receives new requests that she cannot schedule because she needs additional volunteers. She is trying to reach out to newly retired residents who might have the time to volunteer.

‘‘We do have quite a bit [of need] in the Fort Washington area,” she said, noting that volunteers can be male or female. ‘‘A lot of the time families just don’t have the time to assist their seniors. It’s sad. Children don’t visit,” Lark said.

Handy, who claimed she does not see her own family, said she feels cared for by Daughter for the Day.

‘‘They are working to really be daughters,” Handy said. ‘‘For a person like me, it’s very, very good.”

E-mail Angela Swinson Lee at alee@gazette.net.