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Indy woman volunteers, discovers a new friend

Volunteer to help seniors in need in Indianapolis

When Linda Pratt retired from Indiana University School of Medicine, she decided she wanted to volunteer. If you ask Ellie Petry, Linda is so much more.

Yes, Linda helps Ellie with grocery shopping. She reads Ellie’s mail, helps pay some bills and other odds and ends, but those really aren’t the most important things they do during Linda’s weekly visits to Ellie’s apartment. No, the important things happen between the more mundane tasks of daily living. The important stuff happens when they are talking about recipes, or books, their former careers, family, politics. The kinds of things most girlfriends talk about.

“I consider her my friend,” Ellie said.

The feeling is mutual.

“I am totally fascinated with her,” Linda says. “We spend four or five hours together, and I love every minute of it.”

Maintaining independence with help from a friendly visitor

Linda’s learned about Ellie’s life, her career as a social worker, life growing up in New Hampshire. She’s learned about how Ellie went blind in 2004 from an ocular degenerative disease she inherited from her great-great-grandfather, who grew up in a small village in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Two of her four sons also are blind.

While Linda is amazed and inspired at all that Ellie is able to do for herself, Ellie doesn’t dwell on her blindness. She operated an antique shop along Shadeland Avenue for about 10 years without being able to see. She doesn’t think about it. Not even when she’s putting a pork roast in the oven or mixing up ingredients for chili.

“Now, I’m not going to fry chicken,” she said. “That would be dangerous. But I can still cook a pretty good rare steak.”

She’s not afraid to try something new, either. A few weeks ago, Linda and Ellie were talking about guacamole. Ellie had never tried it, so Linda picked up some avocados, and they picked out a recipe. Each week, Linda reads out loud the sale items at Kroger, then they put together a grocery list. Once Linda returns, Ellie is a stickler about putting groceries away herself. She needs to know where everything is, and make sure that it’s all in the right place.

“Blindness is nothing to be afraid of, it’s just life,” Ellie says matter-of-factly. She’s learned to live in a world without vision.

A perfect match

Linda understands visional impairments better than most. Linda ran a support group for the blind and visually impaired for about 20 years, and she worked as a nurse at Indiana University School of Medicine doing research on retinal diseases.

“I think CICOA’s volunteer coordinator, Tara Deboo, had Ellie in mind for me the minute we met,” Linda said.

Linda admits she was a little nervous about her first visit, but Tara was there to introduce the two women, who hit it off almost immediately realizing they had a lot in common including a good sense of humor.

“She’s a really good person, and a fantastic shopper,” Ellie said. She chuckled remembering the time she’d asked a home health aide to pick up asparagus at the store. The woman didn’t even know what it was.

“Linda goes to the grocery and tells me all about a beautiful head of lettuce,” Ellie said. “She’s funny.”

Living alone, many seniors need friendly companionship

Ellie’s 10 grandchildren are scattered around the country, so Ellie depends on others to help her out, so she can continue to live independently.

“That’s why CICOA’s volunteer program is quite important,” she said. “The volunteer program is fantastic.”

Linda is sure she gets more out of it than her friend.

“I’m moved to tears by our relationship. Building those relationships with people…if you find it meaningful, it will always be rewarding.”

Help a senior like Ellie stay connected and have a friend to talk to. Learn more about becoming a friendly visitor or offering telephone reassurance to seniors in Central Indiana.