North Hills Community Outreach brings help to seniors

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Grace Sharer's Shaler home is cozy and comfortable. Knickknacks attest to her prowess as "a special grandma" and "world's best mother."

The house is where Mrs. Sharer, 89, and her husband, Edwin, raised their six children and where she wants to stay.

A program run by North Hills Community Outreach aims to ensure that Mrs. Sharer and other seniors can stay safe in their homes.

A lifelong Shaler resident, Mrs. Sharer said she's glad she saw the notice for the North Hills Community Outreach Senior Safety program in a bulletin one Sunday at St. Bonaventure Parish in Shaler.

She asked her son Bill if he thought the program was a good idea and when he agreed it was, Mrs. Sharer remembered she said: "Well, I'll call and see."

Her call brought volunteers Marilee Osterling and Aaron Wheeler to her home equipped with checklists, tools and supplies to inspect for hazards and make repairs.

Ms. Osterling, a customer care representative at Duquesne Light, and Mr. Wheeler, a cable inspector at the company, came as part of Duquesne Light's Day of Caring.

Mr. Wheeler of Carnegie installed a smoke detector and secured a ceiling fan in Mrs. Sharer's bedroom. He also checked plumbing and said he would install a grab bar to enable Mrs. Sharer to safely enter and leave the bathtub.

"It's a very charitable thing," he said of the program. "It's nice to help people."

Ms. Osterling of Shaler, checklist in hand, was making sure Mrs. Sharer's kitchen was safe. Is the stove clear of flammable objects? Is baking soda handy in case of a cooking flare-up? Are other needed supplies available, such as a mop to dry spills? Is the lighting adequate?

She checked that the throw rugs had rubber backing to hold them securely to the floor.

Ms. Osterling said she was pleased to hear Mrs. Sharer's son currently is living with her and could follow up on the advice provided through program. Her other children visit often.

Cathy Pschirer, coordinator of Faith In Action/Open Your Heart to a Senior programs at the outreach, came to Mrs. Sharer's home to check on the progress.

Ms. Pschirer helps train volunteers for the program. The Duquesne Light volunteers were trained at the organization's Millvale office and then the 10 volunteers were sent to help seniors in Shaler, Ross, Cheswick, Avalon, Millvale and nearby.

"We do the safety checks as often as we can," Ms. Pschirer said. So far this year, volunteers for the Open Your Heart to a Senior program have come from the Kaplan Career Institute, FedEx and Columbia Gas. Any local business can contact the outreach to have employees participate in the program, she said.

As the volunteers went about their tasks, Mrs. Sharer talked about living in her home since 1949. She grew up in the township, graduating from the old Shaler High School before marrying her husband and starting her family. Both of them worked for Glenshaw Glass.

A guitar-shaped clock hangs on a living room wall, sporting a picture of Elvis Presley. "My husband loved Elvis," she said. She talked about a stroke she had two years ago. "It didn't affect me much," she said, although she admitted walking steps is somewhat difficult as she opened the door to the basement to let the volunteers check for burned-out light bulbs and uneven flooring.

When Ms. Osterling and Mr. Wheeler came up from the basement, they asked her if she has any new furnace filters. Mrs. Sharer assured them her sons will take care of that. Her grandson is a furnace repairman, she said, and checks her unit every year. She has five grandchildren.

Mrs. Sharer said she is grateful to the volunteers for the safety check and supplies they provided.

"I knew I didn't have any smoke detectors," she said. Now she has two.

She can still drive herself on short errands, cook and take care of her son and his dog, Boots. She said she is happy at home. "I don't want to move."

That's what the senior safety program does, Ms. Pschirer said. "It helps seniors stay in their own homes."

For information on the program: 412-487-6316 or


Rita Michel, freelance writer:


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