Befrienders - Our Past and Present
In 1993, an elderly woman named Sadie tapped on Pete Merrill’s car window in a grocery parking lot and offered him 35 cents for a ride home. Pete not only drove her home (free of charge, of course!), but he cleared ice from her walkways and was invited back for cookies and ginger ale. Pete recognized a need for older residents to maintain a social connection with the larger community. Starting with 106 names from the ‘Meals on Wheels’ recipient list, he learned that there is a population of senior citizens in Bozeman with few opportunities for social interaction. Together with key individuals at Montana State University and other active community members, Pete founded Befrienders so that people of different generations could form and nurture a mutually enriching relationship.
Pete’s widow, Caryle Merrill (photo below), mother to their kids and devoted grandmother, is our Board Secretary and remains an integral part of everything we continue to do at Befrienders. The Merrill Family has been steadfastly devoted to this program since 1993, which has had hundreds of participants and brightened the lives of so many — the Seniors for whom we provide companionship, and the Volunteers whose lives are also enriched along the way.
Our Executive Director, Cameron Pantano, came to us as a current volunteer. She was happily matched with a 92-year old with whom she formed, and continues to maintain, a wonderful friendship, and has a unique insight as a result about how both sides of the process works.
As for our other two staff members, beginning Fall Term 2019, we have partnered with Montana State University to provide internships to 2-3 interns per term, including Summer Terms. This Spring Term 2020, our wonderful MSU interns are Vanessa Davaz and Marias Quammen, who are completing their Bachelors’ degrees in Health and Human Development (Vanessa) and Community Health with a Certificate in Gerontology (Marias), respectively. Both will graduate in 2020.