Walter Stover Senior Solutions

David Lane, left, and Walter Stover participate in the Vet to Vet program offered by Senior Solutions.

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BRATTLEBORO — Senior Solutions has various volunteer programs, which tend to provide a sense of a community to all parties involved.

Walter Stover of Jamaica participates in the Vet to Vet program, visiting and forming relationships with military veterans like himself. He recalled becoming interested in volunteering after his 37-year-old daughter died.

“I thought it might be a good thing to try to help other people,” he said.

His wife showed him something in the newspaper about Vet to Vet starting about two years ago in cooperation with the American Legion in Brattleboro. The idea is to help other vets who are older or have disabilities, said Stover, who served in the military for 23 years between active duty and reserve time.

“Some vets do not want to talk to anybody else unless they can talk to somebody who maybe understands their situation,” he said.

Stover liked being able to continue volunteering throughout the COVID-19 as long as masking and social distancing in place. Recently, he’s been spending time with a man who has dementia.

“I find it very rewarding,” said Stover, who had plans to go fishing with the man at Somerset Reservoir the week of the interview. “I think it’s true what I heard ... you’ll get more out of it than you’ll give because when you help someone, the reward is there.”

He credited Senior Solutions with coordinating the program and connecting participants.

Like Stover, Julia LaGrange of Dover now has a little more time to spend volunteering in the community. She’s part of the Friendly Visitors program at Senior Solutions, which she found out about through a representative of Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) she met at a wellness fair in Wilmington. RSVP looks to enlist volunteers who are 55 and older.

Being relatively new to the area, LaGrange sought out an opportunity that would involve personal interactions. Most recently, she was paired up with an older woman she hangs out with at least once a week.

“I play games and help her with some research that she wants to learn more about,” she said. “I had one former friend, I’ll call him, but he moved out of the state. But we would go out to lunch before COVID or we’d go for a walk or a drive.”

During the pandemic, LaGrange also went grocery shopping for some people who were immunocompromised and did not feel comfortable going to the store themselves. Senior Solutions connects volunteers with those who need such services.

LaGrange has an aging mother who does not live nearby. She hopes that the karma of helping other elderly people, someone might do the same for her mom. She’s looking for someone to spend time with her.

“You pay it forward and hopefully people will treat my mother with kindness and someone will go play Scrabble with her or me when I get to be that age,” she said. “I’m definitely an outgoing, social person. I think there’s proven research that folks who don’t have socialization, particularly those who were very social when they were more mobile and agile, it can have an impact not only on your mental health but your physical health.”

For the volunteers, LaGrange said, “I guess research has also proven an act of kindness believe it or not, given or received, boosts your immunity. There’s definitely a feel good element about it.”

“There’s nothing better than visiting somebody who’s glad to see you,” she said. “I’ll tell you what, it was really hard during the beginning of COVID. The one gentleman I visited until he moved away, literally would stand on the porch waiting for me to come.”

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May is Older Americans month, Senior Solutions Volunteer Visitor Coordinator Valerie Stuart wrote in a recent editorial.

“The majority of our volunteers also are older,” she said. “Many of them are over 55 years old and derive great satisfaction and a sense of community by serving as volunteers.”

The organization’s volunteer programs have assisted more than 367 people in Windham and Windsor counties since 2017, according to the editorial. Currently, the group has 56 volunteers and is actively recruiting more.

Stuart said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteers programs “played a more important role than ever in keeping older individuals from feeling isolated and alone. They also made it possible for them to continue to live in their homes with independence and dignity.”

Calls to the group’s help line increased from March 2020 to March 2021, for a total of 240, according to the editorial. Stuart said with many public transportation options unavailable due to the pandemic, the number of rides provided by volunteers to doctor appointments and prescription pickups nearly doubled from the preceding year.

“Due to many elders’ fear of going to public places where they might contract COVID, the calls for help doing shopping and other errands more than quadrupled,” she wrote.

Gurudharm Khalsa of West Dummerston helps with errands. He takes seniors to shop for food, medical appointments, lab tests or a gym for physical exercise. He also delivers Meal on Wheels.

Senior Solutions will ask Khalsa for different things. He recalled assisting with energy effiency work, putting in LED lightbulbs the group received a grant for a while back.

Since he enjoys delivering things, he said, he was asked to take people for necessities. He’s retired and finds the volunteer efforts rewarding.

“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I look forward to it.”

Howie Peterson of Putney, who has been part of the Senior Companion program for about nine years or most of his retirement, is currently going for short walks with two seniors who need help getting around and shopping for two other seniors. It’s not just about doing tasks, he said, but spending time visiting with them.

“It’s something I really enjoy doing,” he said. “We’ve been restricted in what we can do in the last year but things are opening up again.”

During his first year out of college, Peterson worked with seniors in the inner city of Cleveland. He said he’s now trying to go “full circle” by doing the same in Vermont.

“So many seniors end up being rather isolated so it’s good to have someone who keeps in touch with them, spends time with them, helps them with tasks they need done,” he said. “They’re always really appreciative for what we can do.”

He would recommend the program to others who want to volunteer.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said, adding that it’s nice to “hear the stories of people’s lives and give them a hand.”