Village Neighbors helps keep aging members in homes

  • Dorthee, left, talks with Village Neighbors Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Spittle Nancy Spittle in front of her Wendell Home. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Dorthee, a participant in the Village Neighbors program, in the kitchen of her Wendell Home. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michael Joyce visits with Dorthee outside her Wendell Home after stacking wood for her. Nancy Spittle, a volunteer with Village Neighbors, picks up Joyce, who does not belong to the nonprofit, to bring him to Dorthee’s home to help with different chores. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michael Joyce of Wendell stacks wood for Dorthee in Wendell. Joyce doesn’t drive, so he wouldn’t be able to get to Dorthee without the help of a Village Neighbors volunteer. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michael Joyce stacks wood for Dorthee, center, who is talking with Nancy Spittle, a Village Neighbors volunteer, at Dorthee’s home in Wendell. Joyce does not drive, so Spittle picks him up to bring him to Dorthee’s home. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/27/2019 6:03:08 AM

When 76-year-old Susan Millinger joined Village Neighbors, she intended to be a volunteer who would help other seniors in her community, but little did she know she’d soon need the nonprofit’s services herself.

“I own a duplex, I’m single and my nearest relatives live in the eastern part of the state,” Millinger said. “I didn’t expect to slip on the ice in January and crack my sacrum.”

The injury left Millinger returning to her three-story home without a lot of help.

“My brother came from Maine for a while, and then I had to depend on a few friends,” she said. “I needed help with washing my hair, with my compost heap, I needed a couple of rides and I needed help changing my bed linens. There wasn’t always someone there to do it for me, so I became someone who needed Village Neighbors.”

Millinger said she used Village Neighbors for a few weeks.

“It was just nice to know it was there,” she said. “It gives you peace of mind.”

Millinger said the service is especially wonderful for people who are isolated.

“Sometimes it’s nice to just have someone to talk with,” she said.

Village Neighbors is the brainchild of 76-year-old David Dann, who died May 9, shortly after he interviewed with The Greenfield Recorder about the nonprofit.

After retiring, Dann became involved with the Shutesbury Council on Aging, and that’s when he decided he wanted to create the aging-in-place organization for residents living in Shutesbury, Leverett, Wendell and New Salem.

Dann received a community service award from the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce in 2018 for his work leading the organization.

Village Neighbors is currently run by about 60 volunteers. It describes itself as “a community of neighbors helping each other live independently at home.” Volunteers do everything from giving their neighbors rides to performing household tasks, yard work and repairs to giving technical support for electronic devices and computers.

The organization is run out of a virtual office, so there’s not much overhead. Many of its 45 members are also volunteers. The nonprofit is looking at the possibility of hiring a part-time administrator at some point, because there’s more work to be done than when it started last October.

Lifesaver

Ninety-year-old Dorthee, who wanted only to give her first name, said a woman told her about the program and told her she should sign up.

“That was last fall,” said the Wendell resident. “I’ve asked for services four or five times since then.”

She said she has needed help with home maintenance, heavy lifting and stacking wood.

“It’s the only way some of us can age in place,” she said. “It’s a lifesaver.”

Dorthee said people like Michael Joyce have come to split and stack wood for her. Joyce isn’t a Village Neighbors volunteer, but wouldn’t be able to get to Dorthee’s home if he didn’t get a ride from volunteer and Village Neighbors Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Spittle, who has also given Dorthee rides to get her cat to the veterinarian.

Dorthee said after breaking her hip a while back, she knew she couldn’t do some of the things she used to do, but wanted to stay in her home with her cat.

“I’ve got some good help — friends, my kids, neighbors — but it’s nice to have Village Neighbors, as well,” Dorthee said.

Organization

LifePath, formerly known as Franklin County Home Care Corp., helped the local group organize. The group decided on a yearly membership of $75 for individuals and $125 for households. There are subsidized and waived memberships available to those with lower incomes and special circumstances. Spittle said about 15 percent of the members have received waivers.

Village Neighbors received a grant in 2017, and board member and volunteer Mary-Ann Palmieri of New Salem said the $15,000 got the nonprofit off the ground by helping pay up-front costs.

“We were able to pay our full membership to the Village to Village Network, which helps communities establish their own villages,” she said. “It also paid for our filing and attorney fees to become a nonprofit.”

She said around the same time Shutesbury was organizing, New Salem Council on Aging was looking at ways to help its residents age in place, so joining forces seemed like a natural progression.

She said Village Neighbors gets one or two requests a week for services, sometimes more. Each volunteer is vetted — a CORI is done and organizers talk with every volunteer before they start. Many people sign up well before they need help with anything.

“Things change rapidly, especially as we age,” Palmieri said. “We encourage people to not only become volunteers, but members as well, because you never know.”

Palmieri fields calls and email and fills out request forms, then matches volunteers with members.

“We have a software program we use to keep information about all of our volunteers and members,” Palmieri said. “We keep good records, so the second time someone calls, it’s much easier.”

Fulfilling

Spittle said being a volunteer has been quite fulfilling for her. She said it is great to see communities help their seniors age in place and remain part of their communities.

“Isolation can be a big problem, especially in little towns like ours,” Spittle said. “It’s pretty exciting to work with a group like this one. We’d love to recruit more people to be volunteers and, of course, sign up more members.”

Spittle said the six-month-old nonprofit has big plans to grow and expand. 

“We’re in our infancy,” she said. “We want a strong organization in years to come. We want to serve more people. We want more training for our volunteers. We want an age-friendly, dementia-friendly community.”

Spittle said she’d love to see Village Neighbors partner with schools and other organizations, as well. And, she’d like to see programs that express the individuality of each of the member towns.

“We could eventually offer programs on history or genealogy or other topics,” she said.

The nonprofit will hold its first annual meeting June 23, 3 to 6 p.m. at Shutesbury Athletic Club, where it will elect new board members — all are welcome at the meeting/barbecue. Current board members and organizers will discuss plans for the coming year. She said Village Neighbors would love to double its volunteers and members this year. It also plans to hold fundraisers.

“The most beautiful — and most important — thing we do is help people form bonds and meaningful friendships,” Palmieri said. “It’s wonderful to watch, and it keeps people vibrant and happy.”

Spittle said she’s been told by other volunteers that they really love what they’re doing for others in their communities. She said losing Dann was devastating, because she worked so closely with him to get Village Neighbors started.

“He was so unique and so passionate about Village Neighbors,” Spittle said. “We’re going to keep this going and build on what he started. He would want that from us.”

For more information, call 413-345-6894 or email: generalinfo@villageneighbors.org. Also, visit: www.villageneighbors.org.


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