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Volunteer Guardians enrich lives

Without family or friends to care for them often mentally ill or disabled people have no one to help them make critical decisions. But a local program provides court appointed guardians to fill that void.

Bonnie Ackerman met her ward Juanita a year ago. Juanita is is 79 years old and a schizophrenic. Ackerman says since she and her husband have been caring for Juanita she's seen a change in her personality. Ackerman says she and her husband cared for both their parents as they aged. She says she wanted to use the knowledge she gained from caring for her mother and in-laws to help someone else.

Julie Nack says Bonnie Ackerman's story is similar to many other volunteers. Nack is the Executive Director of the Franklin County Volunteer Guardian program. Over the program's ten year existence she says more than 100 volunteer guardians have been a part of the program. Most are middle aged with families of their own.

Nack and her staff recruit stand in decision makers for adults with mental disabilities. The program includes 8 surrounding counties and Nack says although she doesn't keep an official waiting list, there are always people who need guardians. Nack says most of the organization's wards are more than 70 years old.

Nack says volunteers are trained before their official swearing in at Probate Court. The guardians are then legally bound to their wards. Nack says the organization receives referrals from nursing homes, the court system, attorneys and family members.

Volunteers are required to visit their charges at least twice a month and be available in an emergency. Nack says volunteers will most often make medical decisions for their charges.