Mat-Su teen sisters find joy, friendship in befriending elders in need

Hannah and Angela Houser are on the lookout for those who may need a little help.

Parishioners at St. Michael Church in Palmer, the teenage sisters notice when heavy bags of potatoes or boxes of bananas need hauling up from downstairs in the food pantries, when a neighbor runs low on firewood — or when an elderly friend could use a hug.

This mindset has been engrained by their parents, Paul and Anne, whose own way of reaching out to others runs the gamut from graveling icy driveways to cutting firewood, building wheelchair ramps and coffins, painting and repairing the homes of seniors and coming to the aid of others who could use a hand.

“A lot of what we do isn’t like an organized ministry,” Anne said. “We just look around and see what needs to be done.”

Hannah and Angela have two older sisters, Kateri and Michaela, who also volunteer at the Food Bank and elsewhere when home from college.

Hannah, 17, and Angela, 14, are schooled at home on Mile 11 of the Knik River Road where the daily schedule accommodates their sense of mission.

On a recent Friday afternoon Hannah stopped in at a house in Palmer to visit Sylvia Reader, an octogenarian, whose came from Germany during WWII. As the two settle in at the kitchen table for an impromptu lesson in German, it is clear there are immense benefits in the girls’ visits.

“I just enjoy their company, mostly,” Reader said. “But they also vacuum and take out the trash,” she added. Reader is a cancer survivor who now has Parkinson’s disease. There are tough days which make getting out difficult.

Hannah and Angela began their quest to serve years ago in a Georgia soup kitchen with a church group that prepared food once a month. Hannah’s job was to make a large amount of sweet tea while Angela, who was about five years old at the time, had been designated as a greeter. From there the sisters began putting in time at a low-income housing project, assisting with building handicapped bathrooms and access to the house.

“Then, after that project was over, we just kept going,” Hannah observed.

These days the girls participate in a plethora of activities — some are scheduled, while others pop up at a moment’s notice.

“It’s not always consistent,” Hannah noted. ”It’s different stuff all the time. It’s just the little things.”

“But it makes all the difference,” Reader said.

Angela often visits seniors at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer.

“My grandpa taught me to play rummy and cribbage,” Angela explained — highly prized skills among seniors there.

Her connection with the senior center began one day when the Houser family happened to drive by the Palmer center. Angela noted that open visiting hours were in session. They pulled into the main entrance and she went inside to meet Celia, the recreation and volunteer coordinator.

“I came in and said to Celia, ‘I’d like to volunteer,’” Angela recalled. “And she said, ‘What do you like to do?’”

“I said, ‘I like to play cards,’ and she said, ‘Stop right there.’”

That Angela played cards made her a perfect match for volunteering. That she knew how to play rummy made her a prime visitor for Andy, who made his way through the halls of the center with a walker. In the weeks to follow, Angela and Andy played rummy. Earlier this year a family trip took Angela away from her time at the center for a few weeks, and she returned to find Andy confined to a wheelchair.

“It was sad to see him in a wheelchair,” she said. “But when I came in and saw him, he actually got up out of the wheelchair, walked over and met me for a hug.”

About a month later Andy passed on. Though his absence leaves an empty spot in her heart, Angela knows that others are out there longing for company, waiting to be heard.

“They’ll tell you funny stories and sad stories, and all they really need is someone to listen,” she said, “Just to see them light up when they tell their stories makes me happy.”

These days, Angela works at jigsaw puzzles with her senior friends. The time spent is well worth it she said.

“Joy. It’s just happy,” she said. “It makes me happy to make others happy, and if I can get them to smile, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

'Mat-Su teen sisters find joy, friendship in befriending elders in need' have 3 comments

  1. October 2016 @ 10:14 am Pat Petersdorff

    Anne and Paul, you’ve done an amazing job raising the 4 young women. i didn’t realize that Hannah is already 17 and Angela 14. they are such well rounded individuals. Awesome!


  2. September 2016 @ 8:48 am Helen Houseal

    A very inspiring story. We could all take a


  3. September 2016 @ 7:39 pm Kris

    Although I didn’t know about all that Hannah and Angela do, I am not surprised based on our once a year visits with them when they are back her in their mom’s hometown. All the girls and their parents are human BEINGS who value life and just by being with them, you know that!


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