Volunteers offer household help and much more
Aging At Home Fairbanks
September 1, 2017
After a year of experience, how are we doing? We're loving it! Aging at Home Fairbanks (AAH) is a membership organization for older adults. It connects members with each other and the resources they need to remain active and independent as they age. AAH launched in January 2016. Quite soon we had 40 members and 30 volunteers. A year and a half later, we have over 80 members and 50 volunteers. We partner with the North Star Council on Aging and the Fairbanks Senior Center, which is our fiscal sponsor and provides us with 501 (c) (3) status.
We originally thought people would join AAH Fairbanks to get help with household chores or transportation. We've learned that requests for services are popular, but adding social and educational activities to the mix has been a big hit. That's what a survey after the first year showed – people joined for the volunteer services, but they've especially taken advantage of the social and educational events. Some people also see membership as an 'insurance policy,' as we never know when something will happen and we'll need help.
Donna Dinsmore says she doesn't know how she could have managed after breaking her ankle if it hadn't been for AAH. Volunteers were coordinated by the AAH program director so that, once Donna got home, she had a visitor every day. They brought food, washed dishes, swept the floor, cleaned kitty litter and did other chores so Donna could concentrate on healing.
"It was mental as well as physical help," Donna says. "Volunteers took care of the physical part of living at home, and I realized the mental security was just as important, as I didn't have to worry about what needed to be done or how I would manage it. The help was incredible: it was enormous."
Staying safe in our homes is important, but what we are able to do safely as we get older changes over time. "Each year, millions of older people-those 65 and older-fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people fall each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AAH is a safety factor for members. By asking for volunteer help with things like climbing on ladders or lifting heavy loads, we take the initiative to provide a safety net for ourselves.
The program director of AAH is a part-time paid position.
"One of the delightful perks of the position was being able to connect volunteers with members who requested help," said Ellen Weiser, the first AAH program director. She remembers that one member's son offered his snow plowing services to other members - free of charge - because "he knew how hard it was to get a snow plow just when you need it."
Last year AAH organized several services for any members who were interested. First, on a Saturday last spring the Red Cross sent out teams to replace smoke detectors (did you know new ones are reliable for 10 years without changing the battery?). On another day, teams of AAH volunteers went to members' homes to haul large and heavy items to recycling or the dump.
Our Paid Provider list is another benefit to members – this is a list of businesses recommended by members and friends. AAH volunteers are not always available for help when you need them, or the job is too big to ask a volunteer to do. That's when the paid provider list, only available to members, is so useful. These businesses have been interviewed by AAH, and they've indicated their interest in providing good service to our members, and many offer discounts.
Learning, experiencing together
AAH social and educational opportunities are quite varied. Issues in Aging lectures and an Aging Well discussion group have covered topics such as nutrition, keeping your balance, home modifications for aging in place, end of life issues, and Medicare. The eight-session 'Boost your Brain and Memory' class has been taught twice. There's a 'happy hour' at a member's home once a month, and informal potlucks and other socials throughout the year. We've held socials to introduce potential members to AAH and to honor the volunteers who make the organization viable.
Aging at Home Fairbanks is based on the national 'Village Movement.' We are one of over 200 villages in the country, some with paid staff and some that are all volunteer. Each group organizes differently, but the principle is the same – to provide help for older adults as they age while living at home. Many new villages launch each year, and we in Fairbanks can attest to the fact that it's a wonderful idea.
Membership for an individual is $400 per year and for a household $600 per year.For more information about Aging at Home Fairbanks, see http://www.aahfairbanks.org or call 907-799-4026. For more about the Village Movement, see the Village to Village Network website at http://www.vtvnetwork.org.
Mary Ann Borchert is an Aging at Home Fairbanks founder and volunteer.