Class of VASIA volunteers goes through virtual training to become ‘eyes and ears’ for seniors and incapacitated adults

Class of VASIA volunteers goes through virtual training to become ‘eyes and ears’ for seniors and incapacitated adults

Eight individuals raised their right hands and were virtually sworn in last month as the newest members of the Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) organization of Franciscan Health Hammond.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the online ceremony, marking the conclusion of the first class of VASIA volunteers to go through the training program virtually. “Thank you for weathering all of that. Now you’re ready for the next part of your journey,” said Program Director LaVonne Jarrett.

Lake Superior Court Probate Commissioner Ben Ballou performed the swearing in, telling the volunteers he was honored to be part of it. “I consider this you doing God’s work. The individuals you are assigned or paired up with, they need an advocate. These individuals have no family members, no legal documents. These individuals are left to this wonderful program to be the mouthpiece, the advocate,” he said.

The VASIA program, instituted in 2001 and the brainchild of then-hospital President Tom Gryzbek, is a collaborative effort between the hospital and Lake County Superior Courts. It provides trained and supervised volunteers to serve as court-appointed legal guardians to assist the elderly and incapacitated adults. The volunteers assist the courts with decision-making. VASIA likewise partners with service delivery programs to develop a continuum of elder law advocacy and guardianship services in the Region.

Volunteer Coordinator Francisca Mendoza summed up the qualities it takes to be a VASIA volunteer – generosity, understanding, empathy, compassion and dedication. “You are the eyes when the eyes can no longer see the situation clearly. You are the ears for those who can no longer hear. And you are the voice for the voiceless,” she said.

Mary Conlisk, the 2019 VASIA volunteer of the year, delivered a message of encouragement to the new volunteers, talking about her own challenging experience advocating for a woman with autism and schizophrenia who was unable to verbalize. She was ripping her clothes and destroying property, going in and out of emergency rooms.

“Over the years, by the grace of God, a wonderful support team and the VASIA staff, my little lady is doing so much better. Her meds are being reduced, she smiles so much more now and is so much more alert. She is serviced by people interested in helping her be the best person she can be.” Conlisk said. “God also has a plan for you as a volunteer advocate for a client he knows only you can help with your unique gifts and talents.”

Volunteers in the VASIA Program complete a 40-hour training program and serve as a limited guardian for one case at a time. To learn more about the program, visit

New VASIA volunteers:

• Jacqueline Boyd, Merrillville

• Michelle Brooks, Crown Point

• Teri DeYoung, Crown Point

• Kura Jeter-Holden, Merrillville

• Diane Kalmbach, Valparaiso

• Michelle Bates-Leon, Gary

• Chynisse Nobles, East Chicago

• Judy Pete, Munster