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Getting — and giving — a little help

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One morning recently, Crystal Meadows Senior Housing resident Elizabeth Blake got the help she wanted and needed. It came from A Little Help volunteer Amy Throm who cleaned Blake’s stove and kitchen. Blake, who has heart problems and relies on an oxygen tank, explains the difficulty she sometimes encounters when performing household tasks, saying, “I find myself getting breathless very quickly.”

Blake says that Crystal Meadows Executive Director Jerilyn Nieslanik was instrumental in getting her and nine other residents connected with volunteers to assist with household tasks that may be difficult with age, illness, or injury.

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Nieslanik said Mary Kenyon, A Little Help Roaring Fork Valley Director, attended a recent lunch at Crystal Meadows and told residents about A Little Help’s services. From there, they set up the recent Service Day.

In 2018, while Kenyon was working as the Pitkin County Aging Well Coordinator and Eagle County Healthy Aging Consultant, she recognized gaps in services for seniors, especially in the Midvalley, Crystal Valley, and more rural parts of the Counties.

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Kenyon contacted A Little Help’s main office in Denver and inquired about starting a local chapter. The nonprofit started in Denver in 2005 when a group of neighbors joined together to help older adults in their community. In August of this year, the Roaring Fork Valley chapter had its inaugural service event with a group of 16 volunteers helping 20 seniors at their homes. Seniors pay for services through memberships. Kenyon explains, “A Little Help is a ‘pay as you can’ organization that recommends seniors start with a donation of $5 to $10 per month and see how much they use the services and adjust from there.” She says 8 percent of the organization’s operation costs come from senior memberships. The remainder comes from donations and grants. The Roaring Fork Valley chapter started with monetary donations from Alpine Bank, Pitkin County Senior Services, and a handful of private donors. They also received a donation of buckets and garden tools from Builders FirstSource.

Nieslanik says of the membership cost, “It’s a very inexpensive program for the seniors to have help at their fingertips.”

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A volunteer chooses which tasks they can do and when. Requests are posted on the website’s HelpConnect board, where registered volunteers, who have had background checks, can accept tasks. Once the volunteer accepts the task, they call the senior and set up a mutually convenient time. Many of the jobs can be done in an hour or so. Recent requests have included rides to doctor’s appointments or the grocery store, computer assistance, moving a washer and dryer, organizing tax documents, and putting a bed together for a sick spouse coming home from the hospital.

Cheryl Cain, assistant to the director for the Roaring Fork Valley chapter, says part of their job is to “get folks interested and comfortable with asking for help because that’s going to be a process too.” She adds, “When we say we’re going to come, we need to show up. That’s often what I hear from seniors is, ‘Boy I have tried to get this done for a long time, thanks for showing up because people would tell me they would come and then they wouldn’t come.’”

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Cain says they are meeting with local groups and visiting senior meal sites, to get the word out about what they do. They are looking for seniors who need help and volunteers who are willing to provide that assistance.

Carbondale Town Trustee Lani Kitching is the Town liaison to the senior community. She says part of her role is “to focus the services that are available [for seniors] in the right direction.”

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Kitching also spoke about the growing senior demographic in the area and cited recent research by The Colorado State Demography Office (CSDO), which provides demographic and economic information for regions, counties, and communities in Colorado. Kitching made note of how quickly the complexion of the state is changing with its ever-increasing aging population. A 2016 CDSO report cites that by 2030, Colorado’s population 65+ will be 125 percent larger than it was in 2010 growing from 555,000 to 1,243,000. That growth will translate into greater demand for services, like those provided by A Little Help.

As Kenyon says the building of relationships between seniors and volunteers is vital to success — “It’s not about the tasks we accomplish when we visit seniors – it is about the connections we make while we are there.”

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Visit alittlehelp.org for more information and contact mary@alittlehelp.org or 404-1923 to receive services or volunteer.

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