- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. Hertha Gross knew there had to be a use for the old cell phones people tossed out when they moved 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, Mrs. Gross hatched her own plan.
With help from fellow members of Triad, a group of law officers and senior citizens working 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.
"They were ending up in the landfill, in the trash somewhere, cluttering up people's homes, sitting in a box somewhere," said Mrs. 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 program's introduction 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.
Pat Vance, 89, who lives alone in an apartment in Pierre, has never used a cell phone but has been shown how to use one. She says she plans to tuck the phone into her pocket when she goes walking this summer 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 put the phones in use for senior citizens. When Mrs. 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," Mr. Jackson said. "If it saves one life, it's worth it."
Ed Opp, 84, recently had a heart attack at his home in Pierre. His son immediately gave him a cell phone in case his health took 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 can be used to report any sort of problem.
"We want people to take them in their vehicles when they travel," Sheriff Leidholt said.
But the main benefit is peace of mind.
"The idea is here is my little caretaker," Mrs. Gross said. "If something happens, I can just push that button."
The free cell phones generally are available only to elderly people with health problems, but the goal is to expand the program to others, such as those with disabilities, Sheriff Leidholt said.
Although the program isn't prepared to go statewide, Mr. Van Duzer said, it has expanded beyond Pierre as word has spread and more people have requested phones.


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