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'A servant's heart'

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | October 23, 2021 1:08 AM

Daniel Perry has worked with many volunteers in the Panhandle Health District’s Senior Companions Program.

But none like Dolores Hawkins.

When she had to quit after a quarter-century of volunteering earlier the year, he found that replacing her was difficult. Impossible, actually.

“When you left, Dolores, you left a hole,” Perry said during a recent visit to her home when he presented her with a certificate and praise. “Which you know, is a good testimony of your contribution and your heart in the program. But honestly, I say with all sincerity when you departed, you kind of broke my heart and it left that void."

Hawkins, 89, smiles at those words.

"It doesn’t seem that long,” she says.

The she added quietly, “I love my people that I take care of.”

She helped an estimated 75 to 100 seniors over 25 years. She sat down for conversation and coffee with them. Cooked for them. Drove them to the store. Helped them to the bathroom. Played cards with them. Made sure they weren’t alone.

Some passed away when she was paired with them. It hurt every time.

Earlier this year, it finally reached the point where she had to step away.

“I can’t do it anymore,” she said.

What Senior Companions Program volunteers do is basically go into the homes of seniors who are for the most part homebound and without transportation. The goal of the program is to socialize and help for at least five hours a week.

They encourage volunteers to get clients out of the house, to help them live independently longer and stay engaged with the community.

“That can look like any number of things,” Perry said. “They can go in and play a board game, do a craft, take them shopping, take them to their medical appointments, go to lunch together, take them on a drive or go for a walk."

Hawkins and husband John started volunteering with the Senior Companions Program in 1996. They did so together for two decades until John had to retire due to health issue and Dolores looked after him. He passed away earlier this year.

Dolores soldiered on as best she could.

“Dolores has a servant’s heart and was devoted to her clients,” Perry said. “I never heard her complain about anyone. She quietly served in obscurity with all humility and never asked for anything in return.”

In a 20-minute conversation with Perry, Hawkins smiles often. She laughs easily. Her eyes twinkle with delight as they share stories. Her memory is sharp.

Asked what keeps her going with such energy and passion, Hawkins said the Lord. She reads her Bible and devotions and prays daily each morning.

She loves to read The Press daily, too.

“The paper is very important to me,” she says. “I have to have the paper. I like The Press. Don’t tell anyone.”

One of nine children growing up in California, she learned early about faith and family. She understood that being there for others in need is what matters.

“She’s a nurturer at heart,” daughter Ruthie Rodriguez says.

Dolores was the eldest volunteer of the program.

“Oftentimes her clients were younger than her,” Rodriguez says.

Perry said they’re down to 47 volunteers from 54 just a few weeks ago, and could use more to serve the program’s 154 clients, most in Kootenai County.

Dolores was glad to do what she could for her clients. Some, she worked with for years, others, just a few months. Either way, she enjoyed being with them even if she knew it meant heartache later on.

“You become a part of their lives. They become part of yours, too. And then when they go, it hurts you,” she said. “You just cry your heart out because they become a part of you. They want to become a part of you and you cannot say no. They stay with you,” she said, then repeats it. “They stay with you."

Sometimes, things turned out unexpectedly.

She laughs as she recounts a story when she and John were instructed not to talk politics with a client. Change the subject, they were told - anything but politics.

But when the conversation clicked over to candidates and civic affairs, John joined in. Dolores tried to stop him, but to no avail.

“That was the end of that," she said, shaking her head.

“John, you goofed that one up. I think we can’t go there anymore,” she told her husband later.

“Why not?”

“Because you talked politics and that is not a good thing to talk about.”

Oh.

Sure enough, they were not asked to return.

Dolores laughs about that one. She said she didn’t look at volunteering as a duty, but an opportunity.

“I enjoyed helping them because they in turn helped me,” she said.

Rodriguez said her mom was an ideal candidate for the Senior Companions Program.

“You know how there's ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere? My mother's the type that always says, ‘I wish I could go and help them,'" she said.

"I mean, it's basically being a friend, and everybody needs a friend, the person helping and the person receiving the help,” she said. “Mom was a good friend.”

Perry agrees.

“If I had the ability to clone her, I would do so,” he said.

We all would.

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