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Outstanding Volunteer 2011: Anita King’s works earns props from Southeastern Aging Network

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'A volunteer doesn’t expect an award or reward. It’s the satisfaction of helping somebody; that is your reward.’

By Cindy Simpson

Anita King has worked tirelessly with her husband Earle King for 23 years to help elderly East Tennesseans in the Public Guardianship program through the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency.

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Her dedication was recently honored with the Outstanding Volunteer in Aging Award at the Southeastern Aging Network Conference in Memphis.

Anita King has done more than 17,000 hours of volunteer service and recruited, organized, trained and supervised 25 Public Guardianship Volunteers, but she believes so many others deserve more credit than she.

“A volunteer doesn’t expect an award or reward. It is the satisfaction of helping  somebody; that is your reward,” Anita King said.

Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging with the U.S. Administration on Aging in Washington D.C. presented the award.

Anita King said Greenlee said everything she wanted to say herself and then some.

“I had to go up there and give a speech and did not know what I was going to say,” she said. “I think she read my mind.”

Anita and Earle spend much of their time visiting with the clients, whom a court appointed to the program because the individuals were deemed unable to make decisions for themselves.

A summary of her work in the conference program said she dedicates 22 hours a week to visiting clients.

Earle King said they see between 25 to 30 clients regularly. Volunteers see the rest of the approximately 40 clients in 16 counties.

“This is really a program where volunteers are needed,” said Earle King.

At times, the clients have been financially taken advantage of, abused or have neglected their own needs.

Their work also includes attending care plan meetings and physicians visits with clients to make sure their needs are met.

Anita exudes warmth and engages clients as best she can, pulling them out of their shells. One former client, for example, preferred to stay in bed, but Anita gently encouraged her to get into her wheelchair and share a cup of coffee with her in the lunchroom.

If she sees they need assistance or a need met, she makes sure that it’s dealt with, often seeking out nursing staff to make sure it’s done.

Anita herself is getting older, close in age to some of the clients the agency serves.

She doesn’t know how long she’ll continue to work with the Guardianship, which includes training additional volunteers to do the same work.

“I’m going to be 80 in November, so I don’t know. A year, two years. As long as I can walk,” Anita King said.

The couple started volunteering in the Ombudsmen program before becoming part of the Guardianship and later heading up the volunteer training for the program.

“We started the volunteer program in Knoxville,” Anita King said.

Anita said it was her desire to do something with Earle that inspired everything, and that volunteer spirit started much earlier than her participation with the Guardianship.

“It started in the early ’60s when Michael (their son) wanted to become a football player,” Anita remembered. “Earle was a football commissioner; I helped in the concession stands.”

Later her son became a Boy Scout.

“When he became an Eagle Scout, there was nothing for me to volunteer for anymore,” she said.

The couple got an Ombudsmen program letter in the mail from the AARP and began volunteering.

Ombudsmen are advocates for all residents in a nursing home facility, making sure each facility is operating properly.

“We did this from 1988 until 1999, when we were asked if we could start a volunteer program for the Guardianship,” she said.

Aaron Bradley, director of East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, said he was a representative  for Tennessee on the Southeastern Association of Area Agencies on Aging Board of Directors. When this year’s conference, which rotates to different states, was scheduled for Memphis, it was decided it was appropriate to nominate a Tennessean for the Volunteer of the Year Award.

“I’m not sure how many were nominated from the eight-state region, but it was clear to the Award Committee that Anita King was the clear winner for 2011!” wrote Bradley via email.

For more information about all of these programs visit www.ethra.org.