BETHLEHEM — Local non-profit, grassroots organization Bethlehem Neighbors seeks to empower senior citizens to feel comfortable aging in their own homes, instead of having to live out their final days in retirement homes. It is also looking for volunteers to help out such seniors like with home maintenance, friendly visits, technology issues and driving them around town if needed.
Laura Jonas, its interim president, said that she recognizes and commends the town’s Senior Services department for already providing various similar resources though like transporting local seniors, offering help with Medicaid, and having informational programs. “But they can’t do certain things like go to your house and help change a lightbulb or care for your pet while you’re away or help put your Christmas decorations away,” she said. “We’re not competing with or duplicating Senior Services, we just want to work with everyone and give more options for seniors to enjoy too.”
Jonas offered several reasons why senior citizens may prefer living in their own homes, as opposed to retirement homes, and how they can benefit from becoming a Bethlehem Neighbors member.
“We and volunteers can help network to connect residents to resources to help them. It would help seniors to go or be transported around town to attend more events, take up classes if interested, or ask for help with getting groceries,” she said. “It would really help reduce social isolation in people and encourage them to get out of their houses and make new friends, instead of staying in all the time.” Other resources would include a selective monthly calendar of events based on member interests, regular updates via email, newsletter or Facebook, and receiving referrals to relevant vetted service providers.
She also brought up how a senior may feel more comfortable being in a home filled with memories and familiar surroundings, as opposed to a retirement home — “It’s better than picking up and moving to a pristine location that does not have those comfort feelings.”
While giving seniors more freedom of choice in their later years, it also helps to maintain social connections among seniors, who sometimes may feel isolated. “Maybe it can even just be somebody giving you a phone call to check in if you’re okay, since you may have caught a flu and no one knows about it, for example,” she added. “Checking in with people alone would help a lot.”
Jonas added that Bethlehem Neighbors follows the so-called “village movement” which started in the historic Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill around 20 years ago where seniors began recognizing that they’re nearing that age where they require more help but do not want to go into nursing or retirement homes. They eventually decided to work together to form a neighborhood-based organization that involves volunteers and a few paid staff to help provide services and resources like helping in the house or getting groceries for them; seniors usually pay an annual fee in return for these services. This “village movement” model has proven successful and expanded nationally, causing “villages” to develop where seniors feel more connected and empowered, while aging in the comfort of their homes. According to the Village to Village Network, an online resource about the village movement, there are over 300 senior villages in the country now.
Jonas said that Bethlehem Neighbors is one such example, its roots originally starting back in 2014 in the Colonial Acres development off Feura Bush Road and only catering to senior residents there; such residents then realized in 2017 that senior citizens across the whole town could also benefit from that model, hence it grew. It was not until early 2019 that Bethlehem Neighbors would start pushing to raise awareness so that it could attract volunteers and seniors to learn more about it.
Looking ahead, Bethlehem Neighbors plans to have an informational meeting at the end of March where people can learn more or volunteer. Jonas mentioned plans to reach out to and partner with local businesses in town and provide discounts to Bethlehem Neighbors members too, as another incentive.
“Bethlehem Neighbors is a great model for anyone who wants to consider living in their homes as long as possible,” she concluded. “It’s also another way people can stay active in the community and help your neighbors out.”
For more information, visit Bethlehem Neighbors’ website at www.bethlehemneighbors.org or send an email at [email protected]