Time Out Means Making Time for Lots of Seniors

Like many other people with aging parents, Beth Dooneief, 53, is forced to juggle her life and career with caring for her 85-year-old mother. While many in the same situation struggle to find time to work, run errands or even develop a hobby, Dooneief has more time for her husband and a busy career teaching business courses at Drexel University's design department, a job she does three days a week in Philadelphia and two in New York City. And Dooneief is confident that her mother is in good hands — even when she's away.

Two and a half years ago, Dooneief found Temple University's Time Out Program, where students spend a couple of hours per week with aging members of the community, like Evelyn Phillips, Dooneief's mother. Phillips — who has problems with her balance and her hearing — currently spends Tuesdays and Thursdays with Karin Tsantilis, a 21-year-old recreational therapy major from Temple. Tsantilis provides companionship to the senior, accompanying her on walks on the busy streets near her home in Center City, trips to the grocery store and even the occasional outing to a museum.

"It's a lifesaver for me because it gives me a few hours off each week to do things," said Dooneief, who uses her newly found time to focus on work, running errands or exercising at the gym. "It's made me healthier. Now I have time to work out and take care of myself."

And Phillips has enjoyed the time she's spent with her young visitors, setting aside activities for her days with Tsantilis.

"She's a pleasant person," Phillips said of her young friend. "She's prompt and she comes when she's supposed to."

The Time Out Program has been providing companionship to seniors for over 18 years. Each student works six to eight hours per week during one semester, and receives $7 per hour for their labors. The program is open to students from any college but sees the bulk of its workers coming from Temple, Penn State Abington, Community College of Philadelphia and the University of the Arts.

"Many students feel like they've found their niche working with the elderly," said director Susan Goldberg Smith. "It helps with a major in social work or medicine because it's real good experience to have when they go on to grad school." Smith did note that the program is open to students regardless of their major.

When the students meet with the seniors, they do not provide home health care, but rather work together with their new elderly friends to plan activities that keep the seniors active and alert.

"We don't drive people places," said Smith, who noted that a student could take a senior shopping or to a doctors appointment in a taxi or other means of public transportation.

Smith said that many families enrolled in the program are Jewish families from Center City or the Northeast.

Ida Perloff, 90, who lives in an independent living facility in the Northeast, has only been in the program for six weeks but already her daughter Roslyn Shoket has noticed a positive difference.

"My mom has lost almost all of her hearing," explained Shoket, 62, "so she doesn't spend much time with other friends — not in groups of women."

But in steps a junior from Penn State Abington named Frances Jolifils, who, on Mondays and Wednesdays, plays Perloff's favorite game with her — Scrabble.

"It's one of the few times Mom is alert, focused and challenged," said Shoket.

The program gives Shoket a respite from a very busy day of working as a school councilor as well as running her own psychology practice — jobs that can keep her working from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays.

"I don't have much time at all during the week to help mom if she needs help," explained Shoket. "That's why I really value the time that the Time Out person spends with her."


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