Edith McNinch had recently retired after 21 years as a Kindergarten teacher when she saw an article in her local newspaper about a volunteer opportunity.

“I was just sitting at home wondering, ‘Now what am I going to do?’” Edith recalls.

The story mentioned that SNAP’s Eastern Washington Long Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) program was looking for qualified people to donate time advocating for residents of long term care facilities in five counties, including Stevens County where Edith and her husband lived.

She made a call to SNAP and talked to Linda Petrie, LTCO director at the time. After filling out the proper paperwork and completing her training, Edith was assigned to Parkview Senior Living Center in Colville, not far from her home.

That was 14 years ago.

These days, Edith is still going strong as she looks ahead to her 90th birthday. She says her work as an ombuds continues to be rewarding.

“I like what I’m doing,” she said. “This is a wonderful facility. As a teacher, you can do all the talking. With this, you have to listen. I listen to people and find out how I can help them.”

SNAP LTCO oversees a region that includes 27 nursing homes, 71 assisted living facilities and close to 200 adult family homes in five counties. The facilities account for over 7,100 long-term care beds.

Often, the seniors they help have no family or friends. Volunteers alert the proper authorities to a variety of concerns from the minor to the major such as inadequate care, abuse, insufficient nutrition, financial fraud and issues with medications. Many times, they simply offer a listening ear and friendly conversation, just as Edith provided recently to a resident who moved into Parkview this fall.

“She was close to my same age and also grew up on a farm like I did,” Edith says. “We had a really nice visit. She hadn’t made any friends since moving in and didn’t have any family.”

Aaron Riley, SNAP’s Regional LTC Ombudsman, described Edith as “as dedicated and passionate volunteer” whose volunteer work has been inspiring.

“For 14 years, Edith has advocated for the rights and well-being of the residents of her facility,” Riley said. “She has developed close personal relationships with many of the residents. Her successful record for resolving problems has earned her the trust and the respect of the residents there.”

Edith and her husband have six kids in their blended family. At 45, with the children out of the home, she decided to return to school, first at Spokane Community College and later at Eastern Washington University where she earned her degree in education. She was 52, when she started teaching Kindergarten.

McNinch is one of three volunteer ombuds in Stevens County, part of an overall LTCO effort that also covers Spokane, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Whitman counties. Last year, the program accounted for 2,071 facility visits and 4,495 volunteer hours.

While Edith is not an ombuds for the accolades, occasionally she will hear from a resident directly about the positive impact she is having.

“The other day, a lady said, ‘You’ve helped me so much,’” Edith said. “I thought ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that.’”