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Colleen Thelen was the first of her friends to become a widow, the first of her friends to get condolences that were sincere but not especially comforting.

"You can't possibly know what it feels like till you've been through it," says Thelen now about the pain of new widowhood. It is the people who have been through it already, she says, who can provide the most comfort and the best support.That's the premise of Widowed Persons Service, an outreach program for widows and widowers that will be available to Salt Lakers by the end of the summer. The one-on-one program, which Thelen will help coordinate, teams up widowed volunteers with recently widowed people.

The program, co-sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons, is already operating in over 200 communities throughout the United States.

The Widowed Persons Service is currently looking for 30 Salt Lake area volunteers who have been widowed for at least 18 months. The volunteers will undergo a 15-hour training program before being matched up with a recently widowed person.

"We need people who have already reconciled their own grief," says Shirley Rossa, a grief counselor who will serve as a consultant to the program.

Volunteers should also be good listeners, says Rossa. "We're not looking for people who want to give advice."

Widows and widowers interested in being volunteers should call 977-9501 as soon as possible. Volunteers will be screened and training will begin the first week in August.

According to Rossa, coordinators of the program hope to eventually set up similar services in Provo, Ogden and St. George. Utah is also one of five pilot programs in the country that will also take the service to rural areas.