Story last updated at 11/6/2013 - 1:36 pm
Nineteen years ago, Juneau volunteer Ward Lamb answered a National Senior Service Corps (now Alaska Community Services) newspaper ad asking for volunteer "foster grandparents," but was placed as a home companion and peer counselor for seniors and the disabled.
It ended up being quite a good fit.
Lamb, a former social worker, has been working with seniors and disabled for much of his life. He now also delivers at least one route a week with Meals on Wheels. He leads a weekly discussion group on history at the Pioneer Home, on topics ranging from Mother Teresa to U.S. presidents. He's worked with Pioneer Home seniors to record their memoirs. He helps seniors and disabled with errands and grocery shopping - at times more than 10 people, though right now he's helping three.
"The motivation is partly to keep myself active... on the go," he said. "It's a low-cost hobby, and it fills a need in the community that doesn't otherwise get filled.... There's just not quite enough paid services to go around and do the things that are helpful to the seniors and the disabled."
The clients are appreciative, too, he said.
"It's hard for us to imagine how good it feels to get their hot lunch every weekday... and a frozen one on the weekends, too," he said.
It's also a good way to check up on people and make sure they're doing well.
He contacts people he hears about through referrals. Sometimes people decline.
"My take is they got some comfort out of knowing there was somebody out there available to them, and they could call if they want to," he said. "I do really believe that people get some satisfaction and comfort out of knowing that somebody else cares... and can help them out if they want it."
Lamb, 83, is originally from Minnesota.
He went to Anchorage in 1949, at age 18, for adventure.
"And I found adventure," Lamb said.
He and two friends drove up at the end of March in "miles and miles of mud," damaging their car badly enough that it had to get hauled back around 400 miles to Dawson Creek for repairs. He and one of the two friends traveling with him worked for their room and board.
When they finally got to Anchorage, the eggs and butter they brought to help make expenses were three weeks old and like "boat eggs," he said - the former name for eggs that came up on the barge. But they were still good enough, and they sold them door-to-door to help make expenses.
They lived in a tent in the summer, working on construction and saving money.
"In those days, $2.29 an hour was a lot of money. In Minnesota you would get about 50 cents an hour," he said.
Shortly after that, his parents and some of his younger siblings moved up as well.
About three years after he arrived in Anchorage, he got drafted for the Korean War. He served in the Army, in Anchorage.
The GI Bill helped him attend college - San Jose State, in California. Lamb got a Bachelors Degree in social science with a teaching credential, and began working as an elementary school teacher, something that didn't quite fit him. Four years later, Lamb got his Masters in counseling and became a counselor and a social worker. He also did correctional treatment for the youth authority. Over his time in California, he worked in four or five different locations.
"I sort of went where they wanted me to go," Lamb said.
But California didn't quite fit him, either.
"The smog was getting me," he said.
Lamb went to visit his parents in Anchorage, in 1969. On the way back, he stopped in Juneau, deciding it would be "a neat place to live."
Three or four months later, he moved to Juneau to work in vocational rehabilitation as a senior counselor, and has been here since.
Now, the volunteering he does is "not a lot different from the professional things I did for pay... there's a good deal of overlap there," Lamb said.
It definitely fulfills a need.
Meals on Wheels coordinator Zach Hozid said the organization is currently delivering meals to about 85 seniors and disabled people, not including those that eat at the senior center. Hozid said the organization needs more volunteers, especially in the Lemon Creek area.
Meals on Wheels is run by Southeast Senior Services, a division of Catholic Community Services.
"I want to keep this volunteering going. I think it helps me age less," Lamb said. "It's a good marriage between benefiting oneself and benefiting others. I highly recommend it."
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