Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on the many programs and services available through the Texoma Council of Governments.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on the many programs and services available through the Texoma Council of Governments.

One-stop shopping — a single location where one can find a wide variety of items — is popular in today’s society. It’s convenient to have so many things in the same place.

Could this same concept be used for special services and programs such as housing, utility payment assistance, volunteer opportunities, counseling on finances or, GED courses or continuing education? The answer is yes and it’s already available to residents in Grayson, Fannin and Cooke Counties through the Texoma Council of Governments (TCOG).

Based in Sherman and founded in 1968, this agency provides, free of charge, a sort of one-stop shopping for all the above items and more. By simply dialing 2.1.1, the caller can be directed to a local and statewide network of services and programs developed to not only aid the caller, but the communities TCOG serves. The programs and services are made possible through TCOG’s collaboration and association with local governments, public and private sector partners and citizens.

Use of the 211 line is increasing yearly, according to Susan Thomas, Ph.D., TCOG executive director"

"I think they are at 49,000 calls a year on the 2.1.1. Texoma help line. That’s where folks need to call to get information about all the programs, as well as all other social services programs in the community," says Thomas. "If you need access to support for you, a parent or a child, you can get information on referral services for all available support in our community or for the entire state of Texas. Say my mother is in Houston and needs a long term care facility or I need information on alcohol or drug abuse assistance for a cousin in Austin, I can call 2.1.1. and get to the right operator in the right region. The database covers the entire state of Texas. I can call if I’ve got an issue with a family member in Austin. Our operators can provide that information!"

Help for seniors, along with opportunities for seniors and retirees to volunteer and stay active, are popular services and programs overseen by TCOG and its Area Agency on Aging.

"The Medicare Part D enrollment counseling we provide is a huge asset to the community," says Thomas. "That process can be very confusing and very costly to individuals and their families if they don’t get signed up for the right program based on health information and medications … Our benefits counselors can walk people through that process so that is produces the best answer for them."

Two senior, volunteer-based programs — RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) and the Foster Grandparents program — are highly successful, according to Thomas. Local seniors volunteer in a variety of ways, from helping students in local schools or delivering Meals on Wheels to helping at hospitals and hand-making items for persons in need. The programs give seniors ways to keep their minds and bodies active while helping others. The senior volunteers also help fill critical personnel shortages in schools, hospitals and other areas due to lack of funds.

"In our last economic impact statement, the RSVP and Foster Grandparent volunteer hours for the last fiscal year totaled 145,000 hours," explains Thomas. "That’s really significant."

Especially the local Foster Grandparents program has drawn very favorable attention from state auditors.

"All of our programs require annual or semi-annual reviews. Our Foster Grandparent agency came in and was literally brought to tears over the impact our foster grandparents are having in our schools," says Thomas. "The person was taken to a school in Sherman and saw in person what an impact it’s having. The reviewer said that ours is a model program and if they could bottle it up, they’d have all the Foster Grandparent programs operating like this."

She continued, "It (the Foster Grandparent Program) is a solid program. They are great resources for our schools. Everybody is hurting for money and suffering from limited financial sources. Our local schools need teachers aides in the classrooms to help with students who are falling behind or have special needs, to give them extra support, but they can’t afford them. Our Foster Grandparents are filling that gap, helping the teachers and administrators, making sure those students needing special attention get it. They truly do act like a grandparent to these kids. They support and encourage them. They are there for them and mentor them. It really is a remarkable program to watch in action, and we can always use more volunteers for it."

Charles and Alice Coley of Pottsboro know first hand the positive effects the Foster Grandparents program has. They are volunteers with the program, working each week in several schools.

"Actually, my son (Charles) got me into this. He had worked with Americorp, knew about the program and said ‘You oughtta try this, dad!’ That’s how I found out about it and I’ve been doing it since 2011," says Charles Coley. "Alice is a retired school teacher. She started volunteering (with Foster Grandparents) last February, and we both just got on the Foster Grandparents Advisory Board."

Charles Coley spends about 35 hours each week working in classrooms at Pottsboro and Sherman. Alice Coley volunteers about 22 hours a week, working with her husband in Pottsboro. They both have also volunteered with the Master Key Ministries in Sherman.

"I’d probably be sitting around on my butt watching TV and doing nothing. This program got me involved," says Charles Coley. "It gives us something to do and we enjoy working with the kids. I’m diabetic, so I also get quite a bit of exercise taking these kids around. If you want to do something that keeps you young and makes you feel good, this is it. When we come home, particularly from Pottsboro (schools), we feel like a million bucks and you’re really helping kids that need it!"

Like their grown sons, Charles and Cameron, who are both active in volunteerism, the Coleys say their work is as satisfying and beneficial to them as it is to their young charges. For the schools, the Foster Grandparents’ work is invaluable.

"Charlie has been such an asset to our program," says Myrna Calvert, the program coordinator overseeing Sherman’s Early Head Start program for children from zero to three years of age. Situated at the Perrin Learning Center, the program has been a weekly stop for Charles Coley for two years.

"The teachers really look to Charlie for support. On the days he’s not here, they go around looking for him and asking where he is. We’re just so fortunate to have him … He really helps in the trenches," says Calvert. "And so many of the children have no man in their lives. Just to hear a man’s voice and feel a man’s hands holding them gives them something special and different that a woman just can’t give."

Sharing the Coley’s dedication for helping others are 86-year-old Anita Ferman of Sherman and her husband, 88-year-old Ray. The devoted couple, now married 67 years, volunteer through TCOG’s RSVP program. Despite Anita’s multiple battles with cancer and Ray’s heart condition, the Ferman’s continue to deliver Meals on Wheels out of the Sherman Senior Center. They often deliver not only their regular route, but other routes if needed.

Decked out in their red Meals on Wheels polo shirts and warm jackets, the couple talked about their volunteerism while waiting for the meals to be prepared for delivery. They take their delivery responsibilities seriously. Missing even a day is rare.

"Sometimes we have doctors’ appointments or something that interferes, but we try to schedule around it, so we mostly deliver the meals five days a week," says Anita Ferman.

Anita Ferman, who worked a number of years in the Sherman Independent School District’s Food Service Department, started delivering the much-needed meals 17 years ago. Ray Ferman, retired from a 20-year career in the Air Force, was still traveling, doing part-time consulting work. He would help his wife when he was home. When he decided to completely retire, he started delivering the meals full time. He and his wife drove separately, handling two routes, but when Anita Ferman’s health problems worsened, they joined forces. Ray Ferman drives and Anita Ferman navigates.

"She tells me where to do and I go there," says Ray Ferman with a big grin. "We enjoy it. We get to know a lot of people and enjoy having a word with them. Maybe we’re not supposed to enjoy it, but we do. For us, it’s a way of getting out and having an obligation. I think that’s important in your life. If you set at home and don’t have an obligation, life becomes kind of humdrum. At least I think it would, but I haven’t tried it, so I wouldn’t know. We enjoy being active and that’s important as you grow older. Stay as active as you can!"

Anita Ferman adds, "We do this as much for ourselves as we do for the people on our route."

For some Meals on Wheels recipients, the person making the daily delivery is the only person they see or interact with all day. Though that daily delivery takes only a few moments, the recipients and the deliverers often develop friendships. The Fermans care about everyone on their meal route, but a few have made a special place in their hearts.

"I met three beautiful ladies and I loved them dearly. I’d make them my last deliveries so I could take more time to visit with them, but they’re all three gone now," says Anita Ferman.

Ray Ferman adds, "One of those ladies, Edna Bodie, was a hugger. Several times we took our grandkids with us and we told them all if they didn’t want to be hugged, they’d just have to stay in the car."

"I loved that lady to death," Anita Ferman noted, almost to herself, with a sad shake of her head.

The Ferman’s raised four children and now have grandchildren. To their delight, three of their granddaughters share their enthusiasm for delivering the meals. Every year, the three women join their grandparents to deliver Thanksgiving Day meals through the Salvation Army.

"They’ve already called and said they’re coming in this year," says Anita Ferman. "They just love it and would do it every day if they could!"

When crocheting and knitting enthusiast Georgia Kunz lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she belonged to a group that used their handwork talent to create items for persons in need. The activity not only aided others, but helped Kunz who suffers from severe fibromyalgia and needs to keep as physically active as possible.

After moving to Sherman, Kunz missed the Tulsa group. She then had an idea. About four years ago, she created the Blossoms of H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Endure) as a part of the active RSVP program. The group, all crocheters and knitters, work year-round making lap robes, gloves, caps, scarves and other special items for seniors, those who are homeless, victims of abuse and others.

"I first started with some of the people who live where I live and then we added people," says Kunz. "We have about 15 people in the group now and we can always use more people. "

Kunz enjoys sharing her talent with others. She offers free crocheting and knitting lessons to anyone interested in learning.

"I taught a man to knit last year and he’s still with our group," says Kunz with a big smile.

The items are made through donated materials. The group also holds an annual bazaar of their handcrafted items, the proceeds from which are also used to purchase needed materials. The group meets from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. every Friday at the TCOG building to work on their projects. The completed items are then distributed via requests that come into the RSVP program.

TCOG also offers several other programs to help seniors and their caregivers.

The nursing home ombudsman program monitors the quality care of residents in long-term care facilities. Volunteers and staff members are trained and certified by the state to participate in nursing home open hearings, research complaints and ensure the residents of these facilities get the best possible care.

Benefits counseling, medication assistance and money management counseling are all provided free of charge. There is also a community-based Care Coordination program available to persons over age 60 who are homebound, unable to care for themselves and/or recently discharge from the hospital and requiring remporary in-home care. The program promotes independent living for seniors by providing supplemental services such as assistance with activites of daily living, minor home repairs or modifications, emergency response systems and in-home service arrangement. Service from Meals on Wheels can also be set up for eligible clients.

TCOG also has information, referral and assistance services for people of all ages, disabilities and income levels, as well as providing help for caregivers such as support groups, counseling, and respite care.

To discover more about the options above or other programs available through TCOG and Texomaland, dial 2.1.1. or go to www.texoma.cog.tx.us.