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United Way: Dollars and volunteers at work

The MIT United Way campaign, which lasts until December 7, aims to raise $322,000 for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay (UWMB). Many members of the MIT community donate their time as well as money to one or more of the more than 200 non-profit social-service agencies helped by UWMB. During the campaign, Tech Talk will periodically profile some of these people.

Mary Bucci McCoy shares more than her time with residents of a Somerville nursing home-she shares her cat.

Last spring, Ms. Bucci McCoy, a part-time administrative assistant at the Center for Information Systems Research, saw a newspaper item seeking people who would be willing to visit nursing homes with their pets, offering residents companionship from the animals and their owners. She subsequently signed up as a volunteer with Pet Share, a program of Somerville and Cambridge Elder Services, a United Way agency. After undergoing screening and training, she and her tiger-striped cat Luca now visit Reagan's Resident Care Facility in Somerville every other Wednesday evening, much to the delight of their hosts.

"Their faces really light up when we walk in, which is kind of heartwarming," Ms. Bucci McCoy said. As she goes room to room with Luca, people talk to her and Luca, sometimes describing cats they used to own themselves. Some enjoy stroking the furry animal curled on her lap. "There's one person who just loves to hug him."

"It really adds to their week," said coordinator Beverly Certusi of Reagan's Resident Care Facility. "They'll be lying there in bed, and when she walks in, their faces actually light up. It's a big success-it's miraculous."Although Luca is the focus of attention on his visits, he also provides an avenue for communication between the residents and Ms. Bucci McCoy, and probably other people as well. "It's as much about me visiting them as the cat," she noted. "I really enjoy getting to know these people."

SCES Pet Share is just one of many programs throughout the country that bring together pets and people confined in long-term care facilities or hospitals. It's appealing to Ms. Bucci McCoy because of the rewards the program reaps from a relatively small investment by volunteers.

"It's neat because it doesn't take a huge amount of time, but it really brightens up their lives," she said. "I don't have a lot of money to give, but I can share my animal."

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 16).

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