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Seniors looking for help shopping have a connection

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Published on: Thursday, June 16, 2011

By Darlene Reyes

Once she was once a famed dancer, now she’d like your help.

Adriana Miller is just one of a number of local seniors who now need your help buying groceries.

Senior Connection, a Montgomery County organization that helps seniors, ages 62 and older, with tasks such as getting to doctor appointments and helping with paperwork, recently added the Shoppers Program. The program helps seniors over 60, with low income and who have difficulty getting their groceries by pairing these seniors up with a volunteer.

A similar program in the county used to be run by the Red Cross but after realizing it wasn’t in their province they dropped the program. Montgomery County wrote a request for the proposal and Senior Connection was awarded with

the contract, according to Greg Muncill, the Shoppers Program Director.

The program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, through their Aging and Disability Services.

“I don’t have a car and I’m legally disabled,” said 75-year-old Adriana Miller, a famous retired prima dancer.

Miller is Greek-Italian and had been dancing since she was 5 years old. She was skilled in Russian ballet, Jazz, belly dancing and other types of dances.

Miller danced around the world, most notably at places like the Kennedy Center and the White House.

She moved to the D.C. metropolitan area in 1961 and opened up one of the first licensed belly dance studios, Adriana’s Mecca of Middle Eastern Dance, in 1972. Her bright career came to a halt in 1977 when her husband, Charles Miller, was murdered in front of their home in Cheverly, Maryland. Her son then died in a car accident.

Miller said was very depressed and moved back to Boston where she worked for a group home and then worked as a caregiver for a rich family, looking after their mother. After her mother died, Miller moved back to the D.C. area where she found it difficult to find a job and had to live in a group home.

Once she got her social security money, Miller was able to obtain a small apartment and now uses the Senior Connection to help her make it to her doctor appointments and to shop for groceries.

“It’s helping me tremendously,” said Miller, who is disabled and recently hurt her back helping out one of her retired dancing friends get around after she had a stroke. She says that because of her back injury, her volunteer, Frank Cavaliere, did the shopping for her instead of having her accompany him.

The volunteers at the program either accompany the senior to a nearby grocery store, or go alone and do the shopping for them. In both cases, the volunteer still puts the groceries away afterward if the senior wishes them to.  

“[The program] allows people who may not get around as much as they used to, to go out shopping,” said Frank Cavaliere, and he also said that it helps seniors remain as independent as possible.

Volunteers are required to be 21 years or older, have regular access to an insured car, must consent to an MVA check and a background check by the program manager, and must commit to the program for 6 months, according to Muncill.

Volunteers are paired up with seniors through the phone and mail. Staff at the Senior Connection match up volunteers with seniors in need based on their proximity toward one another and the volunteer’s availability.

Cavaliere says the program works well and “it’s worthwhile to help out when you can” but that issues can also arise, such as a senior’s apprehension or nervousness due to someone being in their home. For that reason, volunteers are told to build trust with the senior they are matched up with.

Adriana said that she had volunteered her time at hospitals and senior homes since she was 12 and she is really appreciative that the community it giving back to her.

“I danced at cancer hospitals where people were dying and I helped at fundraisers,” said Adriana about some of her volunteer work. A breast cancer survivor herself, Adriana feels thankful that there is a program like the Senior Connection that helps make her life a little easier.

“I don’t know what I would do without them,” said Adriana of Senior Connection and the Shoppers Program.

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