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WestMass Eldercare provides important services for seniors

Date: 8/1/2012

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — For Cheryl Menard at the Mont Marie Senior Residence, the monthly visit by Sheryl Eaton of WestMass ElderCare Inc. is a godsend.

Eaton is the volunteer services director of the Money Management Program at WestMass ElderCare which provides a free service to low-income elders who have difficulty writing checks, balancing their checkbooks, and managing their money.

Menard, 65, who is legally blind, has sought help with her finances over the years from her family and church members since her husband passed away, but now looks forward to Eaton's monthly visit to chat and to get her finances in order.

"I don't feel as much stress now," Menard said, adding she likes the camaraderie she shares with Eaton.

During a recent visit to Menard's residence, Eaton sat across the kitchen table from Menard, reading her mail to her and helping her sign her own checks. A special device is used that allows a person to write their signature inside a box which is exactly the length of a line on a check.

"We chit chat about our lives during the visit," Eaton said. "It's not all bills and paperwork.

Menard noted she would encourage those eligible for the program to seek out Eaton's assistance.

"You have control of your own money and no one else has to know your finances," Menard said.

Started in 1997, the program is a free service jointly sponsored by AARP, Mass Home Care, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. The program is coordinated statewide by North Shore Elder Services.

Eaton explained the program helps elders who might be at risk of losing their independence due to their inability to pay basic rent, food, and utility bills on time.

Oftentimes, these elders are homebound, disabled, visually impaired, or confused without family nearby to help, Eaton said.

The two levels of assistance are: bill payer, assisting the elder by developing a budget, writing checks and balancing checkbooks, and a representative payee, who helps elders who are incapable of managing their own finances. In addition to providing bill payer assistance, representative payees assume legal authority to write and sign checks through a special checking account.

WestMass ElderCare is appointed by the Social Security Administration (SSA), with a physician's consent, to manage SSA and other federal benefits for the elder, Eaton said.

Trained, insured, supervised volunteers are matched one-on-one with elders needing assistance. Volunteers visit the elders' homes at least monthly and maintain detailed records. All transactions are monitored by Money Management staff and volunteers monthly.

"We are always in need of volunteers," Eaton said. After successfully passing a CORI check, volunteers are screened and trained by WestMass ElderCare staff.

Eaton added that the three-hour training is done in one session and training times are very flexible to accommodate a volunteer's schedule.

The free service is available for elders in Belchertown, Chicopee, Holyoke, Granby, Ludlow and South Hadley. Elders participating in the program must be at least age 60 with an annual income no greater than $45,500 for individuals, or $52,000 for couples. There is also a cap on liquid assets of the same amounts as above, according to Eaton.

All elder accounts are insured via AARP, she added.

For more information on the program, contact Eaton at 538-9020 or 800-462-2301, ext. 303. WestMass ElderCare Inc., is located at 4 Valley Mill Road, Holyoke. The organization's website is

WestMass ElderCare is funded in part by grants and contracts from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs.