TOWANDA - The local Area Agency on Aging has tightened up its screening of people who wish to volunteer for agency.

Citizens who wish to volunteer for the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging will need to undergo a criminal background check, just as employees for the agency do, said Bill Farley, executive director of the agency, which serves Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Tioga counties.

In addition, people convicted of crimes will no longer be able to fulfill their community service requirement by volunteering for the local Area Agency on Aging, Farley said.

Farley discussed the new requirements for volunteers at the most recent meeting of the agency's board of directors.

The change in the screening policy occurred after a former volunteer for the agency wrote a letter to the Bradford County commissioners in January which stated that people convicted of crimes have been fulfilling their community service requirement by delivering meals to the elderly through the agency's Meals on Wheels program.

The volunteer, Dave Bigelow of Ridgebury Township, told the Bradford County commissioners that the practice put the elderly at risk.

The B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging will pay for the criminal background checks of new volunteers, said Kristin Hamilton, the agency's community relations director. A criminal background check can be done in 15 minutes for someone who does not have a criminal record, she said.

There is currently on one fulfilling a community service sentence by volunteering for the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging, Farley said.

Most people who are sentenced in Bradford County to probation or a jail term are also required, as part of their sentence, to perform community service, Bradford County Chief Probation Officer Tom Schuster said.

The community service is performed after an offender is released from jail, while he or she is on parole, he said.

Many dozens of agencies and municipalities in Bradford County, such as the Bentley Creek Lions Club, Towanda Baptist Hill Cemetery, the New Albany Community Library, and Ridgebury Township, provide opportunities for people convicted of crimes to perform their required community service, according to written information provided the Bradford County Probation Department.

Very few of the local Area Agency on Aging's volunteers were people who had been sentenced to do community service, Farley has said.

In late 2012, for example, there were 278 volunteers working for the Area Agency on Aging in Bradford County, of whom only three were fulfilling a community service requirement, Farley said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.