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New Plan in the Works to Help Seniors ‘Age in Place’

Image by Andrea Hamilton from Pixabay
If a group of local volunteers and the Montpelier Senior Activity Center (MSAC) have their way, many older residents of Montpelier will soon have access to services and support that will make it easier for them to age in place in their current homes, whether that is a house, condo, or apartment.

The approach, which could eventually lead to a re-examination of the center’s overall role in the community, is based on a “Village” model that was first tried in this country in Boston in 2001 and has now popped up in 280 communities nationwide.

A Village “makes it possible for people to remain safely and independently in their homes and communities as they grow older,” according to a handout prepared by a group of Montpelier volunteers who have been talking about the idea for the past few years and who approached the MSAC to discuss collaboration. The core volunteers at this point are Andrea Stander, Erica Garfin, Jeanne Kern, Polly Nichol, and Mike Harris.

A Village is not a physical place. Instead, members of a Village can usually expect help at their homes with outdoor and indoor chores, referrals to subcontractors, help with shopping, simple technology assistance, social activities, and, if desired, “reassurance” calls or visits. The goal is to promote healthy and vibrant aging so that members remain connected to their communities, with reduced isolation, increased independence, and enhanced purpose of life, according to the Village to Village Network website. 

Typically, a Village is made up of a network of volunteers and trusted service advisors organized as a member-driven nonprofit. However, in Montpelier’s case, the MSAC, after being approached by Village advocates, is taking the lead in helping to organize Village-type services locally. Some are already being offered, but the expectation is that such services will greatly expand over time and might involve hiring an additional full-time employee in the future.

For now, the initial legwork at the MSAC is being handled by Andrew Gribbin, an AmeriCorps worker with the title of Aging-in-Place Coordinator. A 2009 graduate of Montpelier High School, Gribbin’s AmeriCorps appointment ends in August, but he said there is hope another AmeriCorps worker can be lined up to take his place. Gribbin said surveys indicate 90 percent of seniors want to remain in their homes as they age. “A Village is one way to help meet that need,” he said.

Andrew Gribbin will coordinate the Aging in Place program for the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. Courtesy photo.
Last fall, Gribbin offered his own services for outdoor chores such as raking and stacking wood to a limited number of Montpelier seniors, including one who was scheduled for knee surgery. More recently he has been working with about 16 volunteers to make “wellness” calls to local seniors to make sure they are aware of community resources during the pandemic and to fill them in on COVID-19 vaccine availability. Gribbin has also offered technical help to seniors, such as instruction on using Zoom.

“We’re very much in the pilot stage,” Gribbin said. “We want to start out with realistic offerings and then grow over time.” He said the plan is to ramp up the outdoor chore portion of the program in the late spring or early summer, with more volunteers participating.

Eventually, Montpelier supporters of the Village concept hope it could provide the full range of the additional services found in other Villages around the country, although Montpelier organizers are leaving transportation services off their list until they see how the new “My Ride with GMT” service works out in Montpelier.

In a Zoom presentation about the Village concept in December, MSAC Director Janna Clar said she is “very enthusiastic” about the idea, noting that because of the pandemic, the center has already moved in the direction of supporting people in their homes. But to fully implement the idea, “new resources would have to be obtained,” she noted. At another point she indicated “there are a lot of decisions to make, and it will take some time to sort out.”

Hiring a new employee in the next year or so is not possible because of the city’s hiring freeze, she said, but the program is supporting the expenses involved in continuing Gribbin’s AmeriCorps position. “We are researching the potential costs of upgrading that to an employee status in the future and considering some grant applications that might make it possible sooner than later,” Clar said.

Financial support could also come via fees to participate in the program, although not in the near term. “For the time being, we are not charging fees for any of our Village-generated services and do not anticipate doing that in the upcoming membership year of July 2021 to June 2022,” Clar told The Bridge. “That said, some services may add ‘suggested donations’ at some point in the coming year for those who choose to support them in that way.”

Annual fees in Village groups across the country can range anywhere from $50 to $1,500 a year and are often based on a sliding scale depending on what members can afford, according to news articles. A late 2018 survey of 355 of Montpelier’s roughly 2,750 over-50 residents found 184 were willing to pay to join, 137 were unsure, and 20 would not pay. Of those who provided an amount they would be willing to pay, the median was $200 per year.

The key to making a Village work is volunteers, and the survey results appear encouraging in that respect. Of the 355 residents surveyed, 71 said they were willing to help launch a Village and volunteer in delivering services. That suggests that, citywide, as many as 500 residents might be willing to help out with the project. However, Village members do not have to volunteer themselves to join, organizers say.

According to the survey, the services and opportunities most desired by respondents now or in the future were handyperson help (64 percent), service provider referrals (64 percent), rides (62 percent), buddies (61 percent), snow clearing (58 percent), getting together (56 percent), help with shopping (53 percent), house cleaning (53 percent), information about community resources (52 percent), gardening (48 percent), cleaning out stuff (46 percent), and help with computers (43 percent).

The responses were broken down between services needed now and those that might be needed in the future. The most pressing current need identified was handyperson services (28 percent), while the service that respondents thought they might need the most in the future was rides (55 percent).

Village services will initially be limited to Montpelier residents who are 50 or older, although services such as tech help and phone calls could be offered to nonresidents early on, with more services for nonresidents possible in the future, Clar said. In response to comments at the Zoom presentation, she also said Village services could someday be offered to all ages. “That is a model that could evolve if the community wants,” she said.