LOCKPORT– For the last year and a half, working as a volunteer – helping older people make trips to the doctor and hair salon – has improved Suzanne Federici’s mood.

Unexpectedly, it also made her thinner.

“I’ve always been happy, but I’m happier. I’m healthier because I walk,” she said. One recent trip to the grocery store became a workout when she had to track down “powdered meringue.”

“So I have to truck on down the store, to aisle 15. So I get more exercise, and I’ve lost weight, and this is the reason because I’m always going to aisle 15. I mean, did you ever hear of powdered meringue?”

Her client used the ingredient to make the topping on a lemon pie. Baking is one of the projects she helps with as one of the “senior companions” in a program coordinated by the Health Association of Niagara Falls Inc., or HANCI. Each week, Federici drives from her home in Barker and makes four stops, in Lockport and Middleport, at the homes of four women.

“This keeps me busy all the time,” she said.

Federici, 72, retired from her career as a hairstylist a decade ago when standing for long periods gave her problems. After she had her knees operated on, she had to look for light work and new things to do with her time.

“All I was doing was sleeping. My son would call, and he would say, ‘Get out of that chair,’ ” said Federici. “He was right. That’s what I was doing, I was sitting in the chair.”

For a few weeks, she tried packing apples for an orchard until her back started to hurt. That’s when her friend suggested she apply to be a senior companion.

“So she said, ‘I have a job that I think you’ll love.’ And I do because I was a hairdresser all my life and I love people, and I missed those people,” said Federici. “We need more companions … Our case worker Nora Alion, has a list of people who need a companion.”

Tell me about the people you help now.

I have four ladies, and I go to each one of them, one day a week for four hours or longer. We enjoy ourselves. We chitchat. If they have a doctor’s appointment, we go … We usually go to lunch. Whatever they need to do. They can’t drive anymore, or maybe they’re on a walker. One lady is legally blind. So they need me for that arm support, and they need me for that companionship support.

Has anything surprising happened while you were working?

I had a lady, she just called me this morning. We were together the other day. I said, “I hate to tell you this, but your voice is changing.” She has pneumonia! She’s been in the hospital all week. We were out, and she seemed fine. I asked her to ask the doctor how long that can be coming on. She was fine when she was with me.

Everything else is fun. We go for hot chocolate at Tim Hortons. We go to Gordie Harper’s sometimes and look for the things they have for sale. I have one lady who is going to be 90 in March. Everyone else is well up in age. I make them happy, and they enjoy doing [things] and having somebody to it with.

What else do you do together?

My ladies and I made Christmas cookies together. I mixed up the batter together at home. And took it to her house. She’s not allowed to use the stove without someone being there, which is a good rule. We made cutouts, and we made mincemeat cookies. Cutouts can take quite a while, and we didn’t burn one. That made her happy and me also.

Do you get paid?

We get 33 cents for traveling, 33 cents a mile. We get about $2 an hour. This is not a get-rich job. You’re volunteering. You have to really like people and really want to do it. If you didn’t care for people, you just couldn’t do it.

Have you always lived in Barker?

I’ve been here three years. I moved from Jamestown. My son lives in Barker. I live a mile from him. I found a place to live at Barker Commons. We’re all like a family. We have birthday parties and dinners together, and it’s very nice. There are 24 apartments here. They’re mostly seniors.

I’ve had a grand life because everybody that I know has been kind. As a hairdresser, you listen to everybody’s problems. I never had any problems with any people.

I fell a lot! You get all tied up in your cords and down you go.

I really think I’m rather boring. People seem to like me for some reason. I think it’s because I’m happy, and I’m not full of dark stories.

Any other memorable client outings?

We met another lady in McDonald’s, another senior companion who was passing through there, and she stopped and sat with us. My client said to her, “If you try to take Suzanne away from me, I’ll break your arm.” And she meant it. That just happened recently. She doesn’t want anybody else, and that’s how they all feel.

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