‘Village’ group to help seniors remain at home expands to all of Lawrence

A local effort to form a nonprofit to help local seniors living at home has expanded to include all of Lawrence.

Community Village Lawrence, formerly known as Eastside Village Lawrence, will now serve the entire community, rather than just the east and north sides. The “village” concept uses a neighbors-helping-neighbors approach to assist older citizens living at home. Residents pay a fee to use the services of volunteers and discounted service providers for help with tasks such as transportation, plumbing and yard work. Organizers hope to have Community Village Lawrence up and running early in early 2014.

“Basically by the year 2030, there are going to be three times as many as many people 65 and older as there are now,” said Amy Hope, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who has been working on the local “village” effort for nearly a year. “This is more or less a way for people to still remain independent and in their home, surrounded by neighbors and familiar surroundings.”

Organizers originally planned to have the group start small as a sort of trial effort, but after demand from seniors from other parts of Lawrence, they decided to expand. The expansion also gives the organization a larger base of potential volunteers.

Community Village Lawrence hopes to have its soft launch by March with a free service that checks on local seniors who live alone with a daily phone call. Organizers hope to be fully operational later next year.

Informational meeting

Community Village Lawrence is having an informational session to introduce the organization to the community on Saturday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in the Jayhawk Room in the Lawrence Fire Medical Station No. 5, 1911 Stewart Ave. (19th and Iowa streets). Topics will include the group’s concept and recent expansion and opportunities for getting involved. Complimentary coffee, bagels and doughnuts will be served. For more information, contact Allison at 785-505-0188 or Amy at 785-505-0187 or visit the group’s website.

To get there, they will need more volunteers and funding. The group also is recruiting service providers willing to offer their services at discounted rates for members, and carefully vetting both volunteers and providers.

Local residents who saw how they and their peers could benefit from such a service in Lawrence spearheaded the concept, which originated as a grassroots effort on the East Coast.

Many years ago, communities were their own self-sustaining villages, back when people lived on the same block their entire lives and knew all their neighbors, who would help one another in times of need, said Judy Bellome, chair of Community Village Lawrence’s finance committee and the former CEO of Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association.

“With my experience in home health and hospice, I would say 99.9 percent of people want to remain in their own homes until they die,” Bellome said. “This kind of project offers assisted living in your own home at an affordable price.”

Community Village Lawrence is likely to charge an annual, subscription-type fee, with the amount to be determined. The membership includes access to the list of discounted service providers, volunteers to help with transportation and other tasks, and members-only social clubs and activities.

The organization has gotten its revenue so far through grants from local foundations, Douglas County and fundraisers. It is forming subcommittees to work on specific issues such as marketing and volunteer engagement, hopes to find a corporate sponsor, and eventually plans to hire an executive director and locate to permanent office space.

“We’ve had an amazing response to our request for volunteers. It seems like Lawrence is a community of people with big hearts,” said Ellen Paulsen, vice chair of Community Village Lawrence, adding that she believes it may be harder to recruit actual members.

“I’m 76. All of us would like to feel like we don’t need outside support. But we look down the road and see that without a little support, we may have to live somewhere that’s more expensive and more restrictive than staying in our own homes.”