Wellington seniors in need of a helping hand have an opportunity to get temporary assistance and pay it forward to other seniors through the new nonprofit organization Wellington Cares.
Former Wellington Mayor Kathy Foster created the organization in an effort to bring the community together to help Wellington’s aging population.
“I’ve been made aware of the many challenges that face elderly people in the last third of their lives,” she said. “I became more and more aware of senior issues and the lack of choices, in many cases, that our seniors have.”
Foster said that although most older residents would prefer to stay in their homes, temporary setbacks — such as even minor health issues — can require a little extra care that makes it impossible for them to continue living at home.
“In most cases, the decision to leave your home is made by circumstances, not by choice,” she said. “What happens is if a senior has a short-term problem, something that disables them from maintaining their daily lifestyle for a period of time, they may have no recourse but to move to an assisted-living facility.”
Often this decision is made by out-of-town family members who seek to make sure the senior is well cared for.
The question of how to help people confronting the health problems of advanced age has been a much-debated issue, Foster said. Though Wellington has several programs to aid seniors, she said that they are limited in what they can do to help.
“They do a great job providing activities and socialization for our seniors,” she said. “Wellington Cares will hopefully work as a supplement to what the village is doing.”
On a national level, the country is anticipating the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation.
“We do not have the resources on a national level to handle the entire 65-and-older community in the government or in private facilities,” Foster said. “How are we going to address the needs of this population?”
As an answer to this question, Foster said many communities have come together in what they call a naturally occurring retirement community, where seniors and other family and friends join in helping other seniors.
It is by this model that Foster established Wellington Cares, led by a board of local community activists. “What we are doing is offering short-term, interim services to enable seniors to age in place,” she said. “We will go in and initially provide a limited range of services such as light housekeeping, laundry, driving seniors to the doctor’s office, taking them grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions, so they can maintain their independence until their short-term problem is alleviated.”
The organization is based on reciprocal volunteering.
“It is a time bank,” Foster said. “No one pays anything. We will ask the people who benefit from our services to pay it forward when they feel up to it. Even if they are housebound, they can make a hospitality call to someone else who is housebound.”
Foster said she hopes younger seniors who are still independent will volunteer to help, building up time for when they face similar situations.
“Hopefully, through Wellington Cares, younger and healthy seniors can provide services to those who are not as fit and need help,” she said. “And then, by banking service hours, should they have an emergency down the road, they would have created a reserve bank of time for people to provide them or someone they love with services.”
But it’s not just seniors helping seniors — anyone can volunteer to help and build up time for a loved one who may need assistance.
“Anyone can volunteer to help,” Foster said. “Say you’re a 40-something working person, but your mother is a senior. Maybe you can’t take off from work to take them to the doctor’s office. Well, we’ll be glad to drive your parent to the doctor and stay with them, if they need someone to take notes. Then, perhaps on a weekend, you could provide service hours in exchange to someone who needs laundry or light housekeeping done.”
It is through this “pay it forward” mentality that Wellington Cares hopes to create a tight-knit community that helps each other.
“No one is perceived as just a recipient,” Foster said. “We’re asking everyone to get involved. There’s a job for everyone. There is a way to reach out, no matter what your skill capacity is.”
The organization will also partner with doctor’s offices, churches, homeowners’ associations and other facilities that can identify seniors in need.
“The premise is building community,” Foster said. “Hopefully, through networking, we will be able to identify individuals who, with the exception of this short-term situation, could stay in their homes and maintain their lifestyles.”
Wellington Cares is looking now to identify those seniors in need in order to begin providing services in early November. Those who are interested in assisting should call Foster at (561) 568-8818.
The organization also is looking for sponsors to help cover costs. Foster said that although the organization is volunteer-driven, it will have to pay for insurance. “We have insurance costs so that anyone who volunteers is protected by a blanket policy,” she said. “We are also looking to provide welcome baskets to everyone we visit for the first time. In those baskets will be information from our sponsors.”
Recently, VITAS Innovative Hospice Care kicked off donations with $10,000 for the organization.
“For anyone who cares about seniors, who cares about aging in place, this is an organization that can help,” Foster said.
She hopes the community will rally around the cause and come out to help seniors.
“We hope Wellington Cares can rekindle that neighborhood spirit where we reach out one-on-one to help others who need it in order to improve their quality of life, and enable them to maintain their independence,” she said.
For more information, call Foster at (561) 568-8818.
ABOVE: Wellington Cares Executive Director Kathy Foster (center) with board members Cheryl Anders and Marion Frank.