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Cell phones help seniors remain connected to 911

Sunday, May 19, 2002

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Hertha Gross knew there had to be a use for the old cell phones people toss out when they move on to newer models.

She was bothered by the waste, but particularly disturbed because she knew of elderly people who couldn't afford cell phones but whose lives could depend on quick calls for help.

So when she read about a cell phone recycling program in another state, Gross hatched her own plan.

With help from fellow members of TRIAD, a group of law officers and senior citizens that works on safety issues for the elderly in Hughes, Stanley and Sully counties, people 60 and older in the Pierre area now are connecting to a new program.

They are given surplus cell phones they can use to dial 911 in emergencies.

Put to good use

"They were ending up in the landfill, in the trash somewhere, cluttering up people's homes, sitting in a box somewhere," said Gross, a retired state government worker. "This way they're taking something that has no value and putting it to good use."

Nearly four dozen cell phones have been given to people in the Pierre area since the free program was launched in late February, said Bill Van Duzer, district supervisor of adult services and aging for the state Social Services Department.

The agency is a collection point for people who want to donate their old cell phones, which are reprogrammed to call only 911 and cannot be used for incoming calls.

Eighty-nine-year-old Pat Vance, who lives alone in an apartment in Pierre, has never used a cell phone before. But she has been shown how to use one, and says when she goes walking this summer, she plans to tuck it in her pocket just in case something goes wrong.

"It makes me feel safer. I know it's there," she says.

Duane Jackson, owner of D.J.'s Cellular in Pierre, is donating time and parts to get the phones in shape for use by senior citizens. When Gross asked him to help with the program, he didn't hesitate.

"We've got the equipment to help a lot of people for practically nothing and give them some security," Jackson said. "If it saves one life, it's worth it."

Ed Opp, 84, recently suffered a heart attack at his home in Pierre. His son immediately got him a cell phone in case his health takes a turn for the worse.

The concept has worked well for other programs such as domestic violence shelters, said Hughes County Sheriff Mike Leidholt. The phones are used to report problems.


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