Vineyard Village at Home, now more than two years old, is looking for new volunteers and for more Island seniors who still live at home but need a helping hand. The program’s goal is to help those 55 or older stay active, independent, and able to remain on the Island.
Typically, the members are more than 70 years old.
“The ideal member is someone who, because they do not drive any more, would be so isolated that they would probably be forced to move,” program coordinator Jane Hawkes said in a recent conversation. “Without us being able to take them to more than just appointments but to fun stuff, they would be miserable,” Ms. Hawkes added.
A 501 (C) 3 charitable organization, members now pay an annual single ($475) or household ($600) fee that allows them to use the services of volunteer drivers as needed and as volunteers are available. It is this need for transportation by those who have stopped driving themselves that is the primary reason most members join — to get them to and from doctor appointments, the beauty shop, and even outings with friends, according to Ms. Hawkes.
Volunteering at Vineyard Village at Home is a nice way to do volunteer work on-Island, she says.”Driving is a very easy way to volunteer. You do not have to sit for four hours stuffing envelopes, or on a committee,” Ms. Hawkes said. Members may use a cane or a walker on occasion, but there is no heavy lifting required by volunteers, nor, for example, the need to be trained to transfer someone into a wheelchair.
Membership also allows the subscriber to get the names of other types of service providers, including plumbers and electricians who, if the service is provided in the home, have had security and background checks and references confirmed. Those providing these types of services will charge by the hour for their assistance, and have promised Vineyard Village that their members will get prompt service. Vineyard Village also works in coordination with the Vineyard Nursing Association when members are qualified to benefit from the VNA services.
High school students also volunteer to help with at-home maintenance chores such as raking leaves and changing the batteries in smoke alarms. The younger volunteers are not used as drivers, however.
Ms. Hawkes told The Times that she would also like to begin a “friendly visits” program in which a volunteer would make a once-a-week visit to someone’s home for a chat, to take the member out to lunch, play cards, or go to the arboretum. “Isolation is a big problem because at their age their friends are no longer living or have moved away, and it can become pretty lonely.”
Currently, there are 50 members, 40 volunteer drivers, and about 100 people on the list offering referral services. The annual budget of approximately $60,000 is raised from the membership dues, grants, donations, and the five board members who financially support the program.
President and founder Polly Brown of Vineyard Haven, created the organization in 2007. The original plan was to purchase enough land to create a campus with a main building including a dining area and individual cottages so that the members could all live in the same location and be able to move from independent living to an assisted living setting. That may happen some day, but many seniors who attended focus groups said they really wanted to stay in their own homes and have services brought to them there.
“There are a lot of people who have given to the Island for many years. Now it is time for the Vineyard to give back to the people who have made us who we are,” Ms. Brown said. Ms. Brown told The Times that she would like to see the number of members continue to grow and believes the organization needs to double the number of volunteers.
Edie Brown, 74, of Vineyard Haven, became a member when she decided that the effects of Parkinson’s disease made it unsafe for her to drive. Ms. Brown lives in Havenside Senior Apartments and calls upon volunteer drivers to take her grocery shopping and on other outings. “I volunteer a bit at the Tisbury Senior Center. It is ironic that I get someone from the Vineyard Village program to pick me up to do volunteer work,” she said.
Ms. Brown said that often a friend will drive her one way to play bridge or mahjong, for example, and she will arrange for a Vineyard Village volunteer to drive her home. It is an adjustment to ask for some help, but she has learned that “you would feel isolated, especially if you feel it is wrong to ask for help.” In her 2009 Christmas letter to family and friends, Ms. Brown wrote, “many thanks to everyone at Vineyard Village for keeping me in the action.”
Volunteer Lisa Stewart of Oak Bluffs has been a volunteer driver for about a year. “Since I started I have enjoyed it so much, I wish I could do it full time.” Ms. Stewart works full-time as a realtor, has a son and daughter in high school, and still finds time to volunteer.
“I enjoy the older generation. I am inspired by how independent they are,” Ms. Stewart said. “I was drawn to this because it is not a regular thing. The volunteers share the responsibility for the members. You pick what you can do as your schedule allows.”
She added, “It may sound corny but I do it for myself because it makes me feel so good to help people in a small way. I get to meet these incredible people who I would not necessarily have crossed paths with. And these people so appreciate everything you do, and it is nothing.”
For more information on Vineyard Village call 508-693-3038.