YANA: Fort Bend provides vital service to elderly residents

Volunteers make daily phone calls to elderly people who live alone through a program called “YANA”, which means “You are not alone”.

FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas — During heat waves like the one that swept through much of the United States this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people check the elderly at least twice a day.

According to the CDC, people 65 and older are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

That’s why Fort Bend County volunteers make daily phone calls to seniors who live alone through a program called “YANA,” which is short for “You Are Not Alone.”

The program was started by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office four years ago. It connects volunteers with older neighbors through scheduled phone calls made on certain days at certain times.

“So that’s our goal, is to be there for them,” said Michael Kahlenberg, who coordinates the program for Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan.

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Volunteers are trained and cleared through a background check.

“We make about 600 calls a month,” Kahlenberg said.

The county is looking to do even more.

“We are part of your family. We live in Fort Bend and we care about each other,” Fagan said. “This heat wave right now is dangerous… numbers where people can actually die in their homes.”

If a program participant does not respond to the first call, volunteers will contact them twice more within 30 minutes. No answer signals a call to the participant’s emergency contact and Fort Bend County dispatcher.

“We’ll have a welfare check done by a deputy or a police officer,” Kahlenberg said of the response.

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So far, MPs have saved many lives through the use of the program. Some residents were pulled off their kitchen floors after falling and breaking their bones.

During each call, the volunteers ask the seniors if they need help at home. Volunteers will make home visits to help change air filters, change light bulbs or install small appliances like portable air conditioners.

“No fees,” Fagan said. “We try to fill the void where there is a void.”

Kahlenberg said the program is a lifesaver and provides human connection during some of the hottest months of the year.

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