Expanding elderly services in the Deerfield Valley

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WILMINGTON -- Efforts toward making the Deerfield Valley a more accessible place for elderly residents continue to move forward.

As of Tuesday morning, approximately $800 was donated to Wilmington Town Nurse Jennifer Fitzgerald, who is collecting money to establish a satellite location for The Gathering Place. The Brattleboro-based center provides services to elderly and disabled residents in the area.

"There are a lot of visionary folks in the community and their ideas all center around a livable community for all ages," The Gathering Place Executive Director Mary Fredette said.

Fitzgerald and Fredette have scheduled a second livable community forum for Wednesday, Nov. 19, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Wilmington Town Offices. People are invited to discuss how to build the framework for getting more services in the valley in order to make the community a place for all ages. Topics will include housing, transportation and health services.

Fitzgerald said approximately 50 people attended the first forum, which went to show there are a lot of elderly residents in the area who are interested in having the conversation.

With interest from groups, such as the Deerfield Valley Health Center, there are on-going efforts to turn the former Twin Valley High School into a community center making more health and other services available in the area. According to a document distributed at the first forum, the project could ignite interest for seniors and people with disabilities. A need for housing for that demographic was also identified.

It is no secret Windham County is the fastest aging county in Vermont.

According to the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont known now as Senior Solutions, the agency spent 3,526 hours this year assisting people with health insurance counseling, seeing a 36 percent increase from last year.

"As we see the trend towards more seniors seeking help and less federal and state dollars available, we are embarking on finding methods to collaborate and strengthen our relationships with partner agencies," a press release stated. "We all have an important role to coordinate the necessary services to allow seniors to age with dignity."

Fitzgerald and Fredette will be meeting with other Senior Solutions representatives from around the state to discuss related issues.

The Deerfield Valley Support and Services at Home or SASH coordinator Becky Arbella has an office at Butterfield Commons in West Dover, where much of the housing is occupied by elderly and disabled people.

"I'm hoping to sign up most of the residents," she said, noting the housing and SASH are independent of one another.

The SASH pilot program began three years ago and received a funding extension for the next two years, Arbella told the Reformer.

As a coordinator, she is tasked with building a panel and hopes to get 100 participants signed up for it. Participants will receive special services in addition to visits from nurses and Senior Solutions representatives.

Arbella began in September and said the program is running extremely well. Approximately 20 people have signed up for the panel as of Wednesday, Nov. 5.

"It's probably better than I anticipated," Arbella said. "I have another approximately 30 people to interview and sign up. I'm so busy, I'm booking into December."

When participants sign up, they have options for scheduling visits. Some choose weekly visits while others choose monthly.

"They may never want to see us. They may call us if they want our services," said Arbella. "At least we're here as a piece of mind to them and maybe friends and family members. This whole program is run by their choice, not ours."

The program is important for the valley, she added.

"I'm really, really passionate about this. I believe 100 percent seniors and people with disabilities need a service like this especially in this area where things are not as close," said Arbella.

Wellness nurse and Dover's Senior Solution representative Jill Robart is putting together a community calendar. Arbella hopes to have an event scheduled everyday of the business week as a result.

Currently, senior meals are provided once a month.

"We're hoping after the holidays, we can extend that to a potluck meal for the other weeks," said Arbella, who would also like to see more transportation options for seniors and disabled people. "I know we have the Moover and the Connecticut River Transit. There's still a huge void there."

While speaking with Jacksonville and Readsboro residents, Arbella learned transportation was their main concern. They were worried about getting to appointments.

Arbella understood. She's assisted with getting her father-in-law around for the past 12 years.

"If I didn't have a night job, we would have been up the creek getting him to appointments," she said.

To reach Deerfield Valley SASH, call 802-464-0438 or e-mail becky.arbella@benningtonhousing.org.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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