Morris police volunteers help brighten seniors' day PDF Print E-mail

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January 19, 2009

MORRIS -- Alicia Weber and Tracey Steffes don't have any relatives who live at Saratoga Tower, but they spent Halloween and Thanksgiving there visiting with the elderly and plan to spend Valentine's Day there too.

In fact Weber and Steffes spend many of their holidays and days off of work at Saratoga Tower, an independent senior living facility in Morris. Sometimes they bring food and gifts, which the residents love, but the people who live in the tower look forward to their visits mostly for the conversation.

"It makes you feel good just to talk to them," said resident Kathy Slater.

Wanda Wren, chief operating officer of the Grundy County Housing Authority, which runs the tower, said a lot of people will come and volunteer here and there, but Weber and Steffes are the only consistent faces the residents see.

"She always has a smile on her face and the residents really enjoy her," Wren said. "(Weber and Steffes) use their own money and their own time."

Weber is a detective with Morris police and Steffes a patrolman and an assistant Morris fire chief. So both became familiar with the residents through calls to the tower. Additionally, Weber became familiar with the seniors needs through working with Wren in the Elder Abuse and Neglect program at the Grundy County Health Department. The program gathers professionals to help address elder abuse situations.

"That's how I got to know Wanda. It's not a job for her, it's her life. Through her I learned there are so many people there who don't have family or resources and at times are overlooked," Weber said.

It was about three years ago when Weber decided to make a difference. She worked with Morris High School to bring May Day baskets filled with cleanliness items for all the residents. From there her and Steffes' visits became a tradition, Wren said.

"One good thing about this job is meeting a lot of people who want to give and just don't know how to. So we just match them up, which is the easy part," Weber said.

Two years ago at Halloween, Weber and Steffes brought some of the local firefighters and carved pumpkins with the residents. This past Halloween they brought pork chops and cooked for the residents. Steffes then told ghost stories about the Eastland Disaster. The passenger ship used for tours rolled over on the Chicago River, killing more than 800 people in July 1915.

"We get more out of it than we put in," Steffes said. "Many of them don't get visitors like those who have family that live close and I think Alicia and I fill that void."

And in return they fill a void for him, Steffes said. Both of his parents died and talking with the residents that are about how old his parents would have been allows him to know a little bit about the time his parents grew up in, he said.

For the annual family picnic the couple also has arranged to have fire trucks, ambulances, police squads and police dogs on site for the residents and their families to enjoy, Wren said. For the past two Thanksgivings and this Christmas Weber and Steffes delivered meals right to the residents' doors. At Thanksgiving, Al's Restaurant in Morris provided free meals and Turtle's Tap did at Christmas.

And on Valentine's Day they have a special surprise for the residents, but the residents will have to wait and see.

"They bring everyone together in the building," said resident Bernadine Price. "They've given so much to the people here. We appreciate everything they've done for us."

Wren said even after dedicating their holidays to the residents Weber and Steffes always come back for more with an "I can't wait to get started" attitude. But they have to come, Weber said.

"I start missing them after awhile," she said.

It's not just Weber and Steffes helping the residents, Weber said, they give back too. When a local firefighter Steve "Tiny" Kline died in November Weber asked the residents to make a few dozen cookies for the services -- they made 100 dozen.

"It definitely goes both ways," Weber said.