BURRILLVILLE – Talks began in 2018 but, like so many things during pandemic times, the program was put on hold in 2020, and organizers have since had to change its focus.
The Village Common of RI and Burrillville Parks & Recreation’s Senior Services program are again collaborating to launch a “village,” in town – the term used for communities providing socialization and support to older residents.
An organization with the mission to “fundamentally change the experience of growing older,” in Rhode Island, The Village has active programs in Barrington, Edgewood, Providence, and Westerly, and hopes to bring the same to Burrillville.
In 2019, proponents collaborated with stakeholders in Burrillville who hoped to improve life for the town’s older residents. At community meetings, the groups learned that for many in town, access to transportation was a major concern.
A program to supplement the town’s senior bus services was launched in January of 2020, with volunteer drivers bringing residents to doctors appointments and more.
But COVID-19 hit the region just two months later.
“That kind of put a stop to it,” said Recreation Director Andrea Hall. “In the last two years since COVID, there’s a need for more than transportation. We broadened it.”
“The Village Common stayed in touch with Andrea Hall and Tom Tatro during the pandemic, but the Burrillville Rides pilot project was put on hold until the pandemic was under control and more volunteer drivers were available,” explained Suzanne Francis, past president of the organization, of her group’s effort over the last two years.
Hall’s volunteers soon changed their focus to delivery of essential items such groceries and prescriptions, allowing those thought to be most vulnerable to the virus to spend more time at home.
Now, an organized and expanded effort will continue to help seniors with errands such as grocery and prescription pickup, and also provide assistance with household chores such as changing light bulbs, or home organization and clean up. Village volunteers will help seniors with thing like their electronic devices, and also aim to foster more socialization for older residents with calls and visits, and, “Neighborhood Circles,” that connect members who live near one another.
“I’ve had someone help a senior set up a new cell phone,” Hall said.
Hall hopes to also continue the supplementary ride service, where volunteers use their own vehicles to bring seniors to locations within a 25 mile radius. Volunteers with that arm of the program set their own days and hours, and their personal car insurance will be supplemented by agency umbrella coverage. Seniors who need a ride simply call a number for a dispatcher, who will look in a database to see who might be available.
While more of those volunteer drivers are needed, Hall notes that there are many other ways for those interested to get involved.
“A lot of people are not comfortable transporting a stranger in their car,” Hall said. “I have many volunteers now who will not drive somebody, but they’re more than happy help people in other ways.”
Hall notes that when the pandemic first hit the region in 2020, she had up to 40 volunteers. Now, she’s down to five regular participants, and another five she can call on an, “as needed,” basis.
“Sometimes they’re available, sometimes they’re not,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of help at all.”
The decision to now expand services, she said, is based on feedback from those who could use the help.
“There’s a lot more that’s needed,” Hall said. “They want the social aspect of it.”
That’s one place, Francis explains, where The Village Common comes in.
“The Village Common villages are communities of mutual support for older adults,” Francis said. “That support includes members providing practical help to each other foe household chores, errands, technology, rides for appointments of all kinds along with social activities and educational programs”.
“The Village Common provides staff to run the organization as well as technology, financial and fund-raising that supports all villages,” Francis added.
To announce the relaunch and educate locals about the expanded effort, the groups will hold an informative welcome session on Wednesday, Jan. 19. The meeting, to be held in the Jesse Smith Memorial Library community room starting at 10:30 a.m., will give residents the chance to ask questions, learn more about the Village Common model and to see how they can help.
A blizzard date has been set for Wednesday, Jan. 26.
Those is attendance will have the chance to talk to both volunteers and those who have received the services, and to see how they might be able to help with the effort, providing free assistance to those in need.
“Driving neighbors to appointments is a particularly much-needed service and this session will cover time commitment, scheduling, vehicle requirements, insurance coverage, safety, and more,” notes a flyer on the event.
Those interested are asked to RSVP to Hall at (401) 710-7429 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.