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Lifestyle // Good Neighbors
Christina O’Connor

Harolyn Toma

One morning last week, Harolyn Toma (left) hustled around the downtown apartment of 90-year-old Dzidra Damerel (far left), watering houseplants and sweeping and mopping the floor. As a volunteer with home assistance provider Project Dana, Toma comes to Damerel’s home about once a week to clean or drop off things from Sam’s Club. She also picks up her books at the library, which for Damerel is particularly important. A former newspaper columnist who has published six books, Damerel loves to read and says her eyes are the only part of her body that work properly.

With chronic arthritis and two knee replacements, Damerel struggles to walk and can’t hold things steady enough to cook or clean.

That’s where Project Dana comes in. Project Dana provides social support to elderly and disabled individuals in order to help them live at home for as long as they can. Its services include minor home repairs, light housekeeping, transportation, home safety assessment and family caregiver support. Project Dana also partners with other agencies to support a full range of needs.

“They are all so sweet,” Damerel says of the volunteers. “They are such caring, nice people.”

Toma, who was a sales representative before retiring, has volunteered with Project Dana for 12 years, cleaning, buying groceries or just stopping by for friendly visits. Damerel is one of many clients with whom Toma has worked over the years, and she currently volunteers regularly with three others.

“They give me more than I give them,” says Toma, who also can be found helping out at the Hawaiian Humane Society and as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school. “They really do.”

Despite her physical ailments, Damerel is full of life and eager to discuss her work, her native country Latvia and her hobby of writing to many pen pals. Damerel and Toma bonded over a shared love of dancing, books and animals.

Project Dana also offers caregiver training sessions, Eden at Home, to raise awareness about elders in the community and provide tools to improve their quality of life. The next workshop is scheduled for August.

The importance of this type of care, Project Dana staff members say, is only going to increase as Baby Boomers age. Toma also files papers in the Project Dana office, and says that the number of requests the group gets already is indicative of what a significant need seniors have.

When Toma finished cleaning, she left with a stack of library books, telling Damerel she will return in the afternoon with new books and some groceries.

“To me, it is just one hour of my time, and they are so grateful,” Toma says. “They feel good, and I am happy that it makes them feel good.”

For more information on Project Dana, call 945-3736 or visit projectdana.org.

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