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Caretakers help seniors enjoy the holidays

By Stacie Spring, East Valley Tribune (Scottsdale, Arizona)

A trail of small, lighted trees line the front walk, a real Christmas tree with piles of presents sits centered in the front window, and strings of lights edge Robert Bard’s Scottsdale home.

“I haven’t seen the house this decorated … since I’ve lived here,” Bard said.

The World War II veteran, 93, has a house fit for a Christmas special. He couldn’t have done it without his caretaker and friend, Sandi Woepse.

“How could I live without her?” Bard said with a laugh. “She runs the house for me.”

Bard’s adult children live on the other side of the country, so being able to partake in the holiday festivities means he relies a lot on the help of caretakers from Senior Helpers, an East Valley franchise that matches seniors with those who provide personal care.

“We can do long term or short term, even if it’s just for the holidays,” said Shaun Phelan, the president and CEO of Senior Helpers Scottsdale.

The company does have a minimum two-hour shift, but also can provide care 24/7, Phelan said. Prices range from $20 to $29 an hour, depending on the services needed. Once, the company even helped a senior pack up before she moved into her daughter’s house.

“We do more than just keep the house clean. We provide meal prep and companionship,” Phelan said. “It’s about quality of life.”

For Bard and Woepse, it’s easy to see they have a friendship. Beside their shopping and decorating, the two both enjoy classic Christmas movies. Together, they’re working on a memory scrapbook with photos from their adventures.

“We always try to look for free things to do,” Woepse said.

Bard, who can no longer drive due to a bad leg, has spent a lot of time with Woepse preparing for the holidays.

A pile of wrapped presents are waiting for Christmas morning when Bard’s family will arrive, gifts that Bard and Woepse spent last weekend at Macy’s purchasing.

“We practically bought out the store,” Bard joked. “The only thing they didn’t do for me there was give me a loan.”

The retired tax attorney, who paid for Harvard Law School with benefits from the GI Bill, needed help keeping his house in order after his second wife passed away.

“I try to keep myself busy,” Bard said. He does just that, taking tai chi and lifting weights twice a week. He also still manages his own investments online.

Last week, the two went to Handel’s “Messiah” at Valley Presbyterian in Paradise Valley.

“They had a full orchestra, not a four-part combo, but the whole big thing,” Bard said. Canned food donations were given in lieu of buying tickets, he said.

The two also planned to watch the light parade in Carefree over the weekend.

Next on his and Woepse’s list is to send out Christmas cards to his family and friends.

What makes these cards different is that they benefit the MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Center, a cause that is dear to Bard for a few reasons.

“My first wife died of cancer after we had lived together for 20 years,” Bard said. “I just hate to think of those little children sick with cancer. It’s horrible.”

The cards are designed by patients at the cancer center and Bard has made an effort to buy and send these out every year, for well, a long time.

“We take our age for granted. This helps them out a little bit,” Bard said.

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