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County helps seniors get phones

Thursday, January 11, 2007
Pioneer Press
by PAULINE FORTE Staff Writer

Niles senior citizens living at the Huntington Senior Building, 9201 Maryland St., received free cell phones from the Cook County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 5, which will enable them to dial 911 to get emergency assistance.
The free cell phone program was created in June 2006 by the Senior Citizen Law Enforcement Academy, a branch of the Cook County Sheriff's Office, located in downtown Chicago at 50 W. Washington St. Through this program, Cook County residents who are 65 and over and don't have a cell phone are eligible to get a refurbished cell phone without any requirement, said Arthur Moreno, administrative assistant.
Kevin Kelly (left) with the Cook County Sheriff's Office, gives a cellphone to Sidelskaya Yekhevid of Niles.
(Jason Brown/Staff Photographer)
So far more than 2,000 were distributed to senior citizens.
May Wilken, a Huntington Building resident on the senior committee, talked for months to Katie Walsh, coordinator of the free cell phone program and Moreno to set a date to have the phones delivered to the senior building.
Every month Wilken participates in a senior meeting to address complaints and discuss what could benefit the residents. Wilken had heard about the free cell phone program and took the necessary steps to make it available to her neighbors.
Being able to call 911 can help people save a life and prevent crime, Moreno said.
The six-story Huntington Senior Building is owned by the Housing Authority of Cook County and serves low-income seniors.
Because most residents are Russian, Korean, and English speakers, signup forms had to be translated before they could be sent back to the Sheriff's Office. Residents also had to sign a disclaimer stating that the Sheriff Department is not responsible for any faulty mechanism that can happen, Moreno said.
"The dislaimer is so that if people stick their phone in their glove compartment or forget to charge it, they don't think the Sheriff Department is responsible if the phone doesn't work," Wilken said.
Wilken said more than 90 people signed up to receive free phones.
Most of the phones were donated to the Sheriff's Office and then sent to a vendor in Florida to be refurbished. Senior citizens all received a kit including a phone, an extra battery and a charger.
On Jan. 5 several officers came to distribute the phones and instruct seniors on how to charge the phone, turn them on, and call 911 in case of emergency.
"We show them how to operate the phones step by step," Moreno said. The phones work anywhere in the country, and if a senior needs to make an emergency call in another city, the call will bounce to the nearest cell phone tower, Moreno added.
While officers explained how to work the phones and answered questions, the building manager and a speaker were present to translate in Russian and Korean. Seniors were then asked to charge their phones for six or eight hours and make test calls.
"All of the other Cook County Housing Authority buildings have responded to the program since May Wilken got involved with it," Walsh said. "It all started with one resident."



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