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CORVALLIS — Octogenarians Wayne Dinnel and Chuck Reynolds — 83 and 82, respectively — have lived vastly different lives.

Dinnel was born in Nebraska, served in the Marine Corps and lived in California before moving to Oregon years ago. He worked in the wood products industry. He's lived in Lebanon for three years.

Reynolds grew up in Albany, graduated from Stanford University and was stationed around the world during a career with the State Department. He's lived at Samaritan Village in Corvallis for three years.

Their paths had never crossed until they became involved with the Senior Companion Program.

Now, every Thursday, the men spend several hours together, as Dinnel takes Reynolds shopping at Winco, to the bank or to the bottle-and-can redemption center in Corvallis.

Dinnel is a volunteer with the Senior Companion Program and Reynolds is his client, although it’s easy to see their relationship runs deeper.

The Senior Companion Program had been operated by Samaritan Health Services, but the Oregon Cascades West Council of Government took it over on July 1. It fits with the council's other senior-oriented programs: the Foster Grandparent and the Retired and Senior Volunteer programs.

Dinnel is soft-spoken but likes to tell jokes. He became acquainted with the program in Lane County, where he volunteered for three years. When he moved to Lebanon, he kept up the connection.

“I love it,” he said. “God put me here to help others.”

Reynolds isn’t his only client. Dinnel has one each in Lebanon and Albany and two in Corvallis. Services vary by client. He takes some shopping and out for other chores. Volunteers also help clients pay bills, alert doctors and family members of potential problems and offer friendship and companionship.

“I have one person who has Alzheimer’s, and I sit with him while his wife does her shopping and gets out of the house a bit,” Dinnel said.

One client enjoys going for a ride in the beautiful Oregon countryside.

“He is from Florida and he keeps saying there’s nothing like this in Florida,” Dinnel said.

Dinnel helps one client daily, totaling about four to six hours per day. He makes his trips in a silver Dodge Caravan with 200,000 miles on its odometer.

“I used to drive until I moved here,” Reynolds said of Samaritan Village. “It’s a good place and Corvallis has an excellent bus system within the city. Cars are expensive, but with Wayne’s help, I get around really well.”

Reynolds praised Dinnel as “my lifesaver.”

“He is an extremely friendly person and an easy guy to work with,” Reynolds said.

Both men said they enjoy a cup of coffee and a cookie at the end of their weekly outing.

Alicia Lucke administers the three senior programs for the Council of Governments and said the Senior Companion Program fits perfectly within the system. Volunteers receive a stipend of $2.65 per hour and 40 cents per mile with their own vehicles, capped at 500 miles per month, although Lucke hopes to increase that to 750.

Lucke said the program is funded by grants and currently there is a budget for 20 volunteers.

“We have 12 in the three counties — Linn, Benton and Lincoln,” she said. “We need eight more. Of the 12 current volunteers, nine are women.”

There are six volunteers in Linn County with two in training; one in Benton County and five in Lincoln, Lucke said. She also has three applications in process.

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Potential volunteers must pass an interview, complete a job shadow and undergo an FBI fingerprint check.

“We also provide driver’s training and have guest speakers come in to talk about things like Alzheimer’s or financial management for seniors,” she said. “These are areas the volunteers can help clients with.”

Current volunteers range in age from 68 to 83.

“The biggest asset for volunteers is if they have a heart for service to others,” Lucke said. “I also try to link volunteers and clients who share interests, for example, veterans.”

She said most clients are referred to her through the free Senior and Disabled Services.

“In addition to the stipend and mileage reimbursement, we also host volunteer recognition events such as going to the Albany Art Studio for lunch and to create harvest fall paintings,” Lucke said.

Potential volunteers to call her at 541-924-8440.

The Senior Companion Program started nationally in 1974 and provides a way for volunteers 55 and older to stay active and serve less-able seniors.

The local program is funded by a $117,876 federal grant with a $26,731 local match.

To learn more about the Senior Companion Program, visit www.ocwcog.org/seniors-disability/volunteers-advocacy/.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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