Finding a blessing

Thursday, December 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:23 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008


Seventy-five-year-old Janet Barnes accomplishes more in a day than some people half her age. That’s pretty good for someone who was not expected to live past her 14th birthday.

Barnes was informally diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 11, and for most of her life she has been dependent on crutches or her wheelchair for mobility. Yet she sees her circumstance as a blessing rather than a hindrance.

“I have enough disability to appreciate the ability I have,” she said.

Barnes is a mother of four and has lived in the Freedom House apartment building since the death of her husband, Harold Barnes, in the mid-1980s. Janet Barnes and her husband, who was also in a wheelchair, were married more than 30 years before his death.

Janet Barnes keeps busy, spending most mornings volunteering at Shepard Elementary in Columbia as a foster grandparent. She reads to several classes and is affectionately known as “Grandma Janet.” Her picture is included in the yearly class pictures. This year marks her sixth year as Grandma Janet at Shepard.

She also volunteers at University Hospital, where she serves as a flower carrier and hand delivers arrangements to patients’ rooms.

“Anything they need taken anywhere,” she said, “I take it.”

Once a week, Barnes gets a visit from Maribeth Ryan, a visitor from the Boone County Council on Aging. Ryan participates in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at the council, and she comes to socialize and visit with Barnes.

Barnes has dealt with her disability all her life, but she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I would not trade places with anybody,” she said.

Wish Box


From left, Madison Gerau, Joe Altis and Megan Heath, all from Kathy Sicht’s kindergarten class, listen as Barnes reads. Each child takes his or her turn flipping the pages. Barnes is in her sixth year as a volunteer foster grandparent at Shepard Elementary. (Sara Davidson/Missourian)

GROUP: Boone County Council on Aging

SUMMARY: The council is a locally funded United Way agency that has been helping seniors in Columbia since 1973. Its mission is to promote the self-respect, dignity, security and independence of older citizens in Boone County. The council’s two programs are Senior Connect, a program that includes care management and volunteer and support services, as well as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which provides seniors with opportunities to use their skills and remain active in the community.

CONTACT: Andrea Kolb, senior services specialist, at 800 N. Providence, Suite 105, Columbia, 65203, or by phone at 443-1111. The fax number is 874-1821. The Web site is

WISH: Donations help provide care management for low-income seniors, provide supplemental accident and liability insurance, and offer transportation and other services.

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