Volunteers help seniors 'age in place'

'Elder village' model helps seniors stay in their homes longer


WINTER PARK, Fla. – Nearly 90 percent of adults age 65 and up want to stay in their current home and community as they age, according to a study by the AARP.

[WEB EXTRA:  More info | Village to Village Network]

It's statistics like this that support the need for groups like Neighbors Network.

The Winter Park based nonprofit helps seniors with household tasks and provides vetted community partners for larger projects.

"I'm convinced that this is the way to go," says Neighbors Network chair, Annette Kelly. "If we want to be in our own homes, why not create local support organizations that can actually help us do that."

Neighbors Network is at the forefront of a growing trend in senior care, and the first in Central Florida to offer these services.  

For an annual fee of $500 a year or $375 per individual, members have access to help from volunteers and professionals. Neighbors Network also organizes social meet-ups and special events.

Kelly says the idea is to build a "virtual community," allowing friendships to blossom and opening doors for people who may have a hard time asking for help.

"It's giving people permission to be helped, which is actually tough," she says. "It's just that we don't see ourselves as being incapable or needing help. It's hard to ask."

We caught up with volunteers as they helped plant a herb garden for Linda Young and her husband Brian.

"I love herbs and I've been wanting to do this for years," she says. "It's something I haven't been able to do. So without this help I wouldn't have been able to do it."

Brian is recovering from a recent stroke but the two agree they want to stay in their current home.

"Brian and I already decided that we wanted to stay in our home and not go anywhere as we age," says Linda Young. "We just don't want to go to a nursing home or anything like that."

The couple have been members for about a year and have had volunteers help organize paperwork and help them with their computer.

Kelly says organizational help is the top request.

University of Florida professor and gerontologist, Stephen Golant has been studying older Americans' housing needs for more than 30 years. His book "Aging in the Right Place," outlines the options older people have for balancing their desired lifestyle with the realities of declining health.

"It's not an easy task to grow old in American society," says Golant. He says it's particularly difficult for the middle class.

"The group that has ironically the most challenging difficulties to age successfully in their own home are the middle class," he says. "Think about it, they're not eligible for the public programs they have too much money. On the other hand, they're not wealthy enough to afford that assisted living development.  They have to somehow package together the services they need from their community."

Neighbors Network services Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. They say keeping the area small is key to developing a sense of community.

"The more local this organization is, the more dynamic and more helpful it can actually be in fostering older adult community life," Kelly says.

Organizers say they are always looking for more volunteers as well as members.

For more information visit neighborsnetworkfl.org and for a list of elder villages across the state and country visit the Village to village network.

About the Author: