By Kristin DeJohn
Aug. 10, 2021
“Growing up in Bolton, and caring for elderly parents, it became apparent how hard it is to age in place in our community,” lamented Alix Turner, a board member of the new non-profit organization Nashoba Neighbors, which aims to help area seniors stay in their homes by offering services and a social network.
“Being forced to leave your home because you can’t do simple things anymore is not how most of us envision our future,” said Turner, who is also the Director of the Lancaster COA and a Select Board member in that town. “Most of the hurdles of aging in place are relatively ‘fixable’ problems; all it takes is a village.”
That ‘village’ is beginning to form and will serve seniors in Bolton, Berlin, and Lancaster. “We are excited to announce that we are getting closer to enrolling volunteers and members,” exclaimed organization founder Catherine Pfau of Bolton, who is planning to start the program this fall and is currently alerting potential volunteers.
Pfau was inspired to create Nashoba Neighbors after hearing about Beacon Hill Village and reading an article in the Boston Globe. The Bolton Independent had a chance to ask Pfau how she envisions the program working in the months ahead.
Q: How do potential volunteers contact Nashoba Neighbors?
A: Our website, www.nashobaneighbors.org, is up and running! We are still ironing out some details with the volunteer and member enrollment forms. Just give us a call at 978-226-8844 or send an email to [email protected] for more information. You can also sign up for our newsletter on our website to keep informed. Right now, our need is for startup and operational funds. We do take donations online as well as checks that are mailed to us at: Nashoba Neighbors, PO Box 123, Bolton, MA 01740
Q: What types of volunteers do you need?
A: Volunteers are what makes an organization like Nashoba Neighbors work. We are looking for two types of volunteers: some who will do things behind the scenes, and others who will work directly with members taking care of service requests. The behind the scenes volunteers will take daily calls, help with membership, technology, and marketing. The direct service volunteers will drive members to their requested destinations, help with household tasks, provide technical support, give friendly visits, and more. Check out our website for more details. Members can also help others by volunteering. Our policy for volunteers under the age of 18 is that they must be accompanied by a fully vetted Nashoba Neighbors adult volunteer.
Q: How does it work for seniors who’d like to sign up?
A: We are expecting to enroll members later this fall once we test out our systems and sign up and train volunteers. If you are interested in membership or volunteering, please give us a call and we can put you on the waiting list. You can also go to our website and sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date. Keeping the cost as low as possible is very important to us. We are able to do this because we have no physical office, only a virtual one. In order to keep costs low, we have no paid staff and are run entirely by volunteers. For one person the annual membership is $175 and for two people in one household, it is $150 each. Once enrolled, members can request services and get matched with volunteers. They can also sign up for events.
Q: Are you modeling Nashoba Neighbors after other organizations?
A: Nashoba Neighbors is a “Village.” We are part of the Village to Village Network of over 350 Villages currently operating. The Village model was started in 2002 by Beacon Hill Village. They proved to be an inspiration and model for all the other villages. They provide us with support and connections with other Villages. There is also an annual conference. We have monthly meetings with all the Massachusetts’ Villages and share lots of advice and ideas. I started a group called Mass. Villages in Formation of all the villages that are still in formation. We meet monthly. The folks from Groton Neighbors have provided very valuable information and have guided us as we establish Nashoba Neighbors.
Q: What types of services will be available?
A: An extensive list of services that we will provide is on our website. They include things like: transportation to appointments, meetings with friends, shopping, and social events. Transportation is not on a rigid schedule but at the member’s convenience. Other plans: friendly visits, wellness checks, light home repairs, and upkeep such as putting a battery in a smoke detector, changing light bulbs, and removing air conditioners. Other assistance would include technical help with things like learning Zoom, help with setting up or learning to use cell phones, tablets, etc.
Q: What types of social events do you envision?
A: Interest groups such as gardening, cooking, hiking, walking, bridge, educational events, trips, and social gatherings such as lunches, pot lucks, and walks. The types of events we offer will be determined by our members and what they want to see happen.
Q: What are the additional benefits of these types of programs?
A: Some of the benefits are: having a backup system in case you have a period of incapacity, the confidence to remain in your own home, peace of mind for you and your family, and a real connection to your community. When people retire they often lose their sense of connection to others and can become isolated. A Village helps people find new friends and a caring community. It is a plan for your future; you know you have a number to call when you need it. A Village provides new friendships and a low-cost alternative to serve their needs as they age in place. We believe that as people grow older they should be able to continue to be engaged and thrive!
Q: Does Nashoba Neighbors work with other local groups for seniors?
A: Our plan is to fill in the gaps between what is currently available and what our members need. We reach out and communicate with other nonprofits, municipal, educational and cultural organizations in the area to find out how we can work together. We want to complement and make use of all these community resources, not duplicate them.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected the planned start?
A. Things are going a little slower than planned due to COVID and getting our technology platform running is taking a little longer than we anticipated. We also need to be aware of COVID restrictions when we plan our schedule. We are planning on doing a slow launch starting this fall, and gradually enrolling more volunteers and members as we go on.
Q: What have you found or learned along the way?
A: That the need for Nashoba Neighbors is more important than ever! COVID has brought to light the severity of some of the issues that older adults face. Social isolation was something that many people faced before and now we realize how important it is for health and well-being for people to have a human connection and a sense of meaning in their lives. In addition to services and social events, Nashoba Neighbors will create a community of members and volunteers.
During COVID, more people than ever in our communities came together to help others in need. I think people really want to be able to give back in some way to help others. Even if you have never volunteered before, please consider joining us!