CENTRAL POINT — Older folks who'd like some company now and then can arrange a visit from a "guardian angel."

CENTRAL POINT — Older folks who'd like some company now and then can arrange a visit from a "guardian angel."

The city's Volunteers in Police Service group, also known as the VIPS, is offering friendly, no-cost welfare checks for ailing seniors, shut-ins and anyone over the age of 60 who could benefit from some extra human contact.

Police Lt. Chuck Newell said the volunteers are ready, and all they need now are people to visit. City residents can sign up by calling the police department at 664-5578. A volunteer will call back and arrange a time for the visits.

Newell said the welfare checks are a natural addition to the department's volunteer program, which already provides services such as checking houses while residents are on vacation and helping city residents with filing paperwork.

"We think this is going to be an incredible thing," Newell said, "especially for shut-ins in our community who don't get much day-to-day (social) interaction.

"We have a lot of seniors in our community, and we're hearing from local agencies that there are over 500 people in the Rogue Valley who would qualify for this type of thing. Our seniors are such an important part of our community, so we want to make sure they don't fall through the cracks and that we're taking care of them."

The visits will provide added security and comfort for aging seniors, said Don Bruland, director of the Rogue Valley Council of Government's Senior and Disability Services Division.

"We know that social contact is one of the most important things both to the mental and physical health of a person," Bruland said. "When people become isolated in their own homes, there are few things that can help them more than somebody making contact with them and listening to them. It's so crucial to both their mental and physical health, because the two are so intertwined."

Bruland said RVCOG's meal program, Food and Friends, draws its name from the recognition that daily social interaction is as crucial for the elderly as healthy food.

"That nutritional meal each day is extremely important," Bruland said, "but it's just as important (to have) somebody coming by each day to check on you and say, 'How are you doing?' It's especially critical in an area like ours, where there are a number of seniors who have either lived here all their lives and their children have moved away, or they've moved here, maybe to retire, and don't have that natural (family) support system."

Ginger Vanek, a charter member of the city's volunteer program, said the welfare checks will be a welcome addition to Central Point. She said the idea for the program came from another volunteer who knew of a similar service in San Diego.

"Knowing the other volunteers and how they feel about doing good things for their community, this program is going to be very well-received," she said. "We already do vacation checks. This will be even better. These people may not have anybody come by to see if they're doing OK. Just having somebody come by and ask if they're all right could make all the difference in their day.

"As a senior myself, I know that it's not always easy to get older and feel alone. Our volunteers will probably get some new buddies out there."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.