A Volunteer's Story
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet volunteer SHINE counselor Charlie DeRose
Charlie DeRose, a retired newspaper publisher, is enjoying his golden years. “Oh, I'm a typical retired 75-year-old grandfather.” In addition to enjoying family time, he has spent the past year volunteering with LifePath as a SHINE counselor at the Northampton Senior Center. “Well, helping other people, of course, is what – next to grandchildren – makes being old fun. When you're young and have to work, you have neither the time nor the emotional energy to be particularly helpful. But at this stage in life, it's wonderful, and you get far more out of it because you meet some wonderful, interesting people.”
What is SHINE?
SHINE, Serving Health Insurance Needs of Everyone, is a program that provides free, confidential and unbiased health insurance counseling for all Medicare beneficiaries.
SHINE counselors work one-on-one with individuals in their own communities providing information, counseling and assistance on Medicare, Medigap, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, Public Benefits, One Care Plans, and more.
Becoming a SHINE volunteer
“It’s a lot to absorb, but it's still fun,” says Charlie, who signed up to attend the SHINE Spring Training in 2016 when, after meeting with a SHINE counselor, Charlie and his wife saved several hundred dollars. Seeing firsthand what a difference the program could make, Charlie decided he wanted to train to become a SHINE counselor and help others, too.
“It means you get to understand the complicated world of Medicare and Medicaid, which is personally helpful, but it's more than that,” says Charlie. “None of us are single-issue people, and so, as you try and be helpful, you run into all kinds of things. And that's what make it's interesting. The demands are two-fold: knowledge of the subject and secondly whether you're comfortable with people, whether you can read people, whether you can put them at ease.”
Who do SHINE counselors work with?
Generally, the people Charlie works with are older adults who are preparing for the changes that retirement will bring. “Most people are approaching 65 and having to deal with what that means, which can be a lot of things,” says Charlie, though he has occasionally had visits from younger people with disabilities.
If he ever needs advice, Charlie appreciates being able to turn to those more experienced in the SHINE program. “We have wonderful mentors in Lorraine [York-Edberg] here at LifePath and Michelle [Dihlmann] at the Northampton senior center.”
Charlie values the flexibility of his schedule. “You can vary your commitment, which is nice,” he says, “but for me, at the age of 75, it fits very nicely into my week because I can say to Michelle, the grandkids are [visiting] for a week, so I won't be around. But I'll be back.”
2017 SHINE Spring Training at LifePath
The 2017 Spring Training will take place at LifePath from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch, beginning on April 26, 2017. Participants will meet weekdays for 11 sessions. A graduation celebration will take place in June.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Margarete and Barbara, Benefits Counselors
“One of the things I thought about as I went into retirement was: what was I going to do? What did I want to do next?” says Margarete Couture. “And I decided that I was only going to do things that bring joy to me.”
Margarete, along with Barbara Watson, found what brings her joy: volunteering with LifePath (formerly Franklin County Home Care Corporation) as a Benefits Counselor.
Benefits Counselors, overseen by Gretchen Smith, Benefits Counseling Program Coordinator, assist elders and people with disabilities with learning about the benefits to which they are entitled and filling out applications. These volunteers help give people residing in Franklin County, as well as those living in the four Worcester Country towns of Athol, Petersham, Phillipston, and Royalston in the North Quabbin, access to benefits programs offering assistance with home repair, weatherization, fuel assistance, disability modifications, foreclosure protection, utility discounts, and SNAP (food stamps).
“It’s just nice to be able to reassure them that there is help out there,” says Barbara.
Both volunteers are former educators who have retired. “I was busy at home with lots of different stuff,” says Barbara, who lives in Gill, “but wanted to do some form of volunteer work. This one sounded like a good match with my skills.”
Margarete relocated to Bernardston from out of state. “I didn’t know anybody and yet I felt a real need to connect with the community. And so when this opportunity came available, I became a volunteer.”
The women enjoy the opportunity to get to know their neighbors. “Each elder has their own special story,” says Margarete. “It’s really important when you walk in that door to make a connection and take the time to listen."
“We usually start just with conversation,” says Barbara, “ask how they’re doing. I don’t like to get down to business too fast. I mean I don’t want to waste their time, but I want them to understand that we have the time.”
Benefits Counselors usually meet in an elder’s home or other setting of their choice. During their initial meeting and any that may follow, the counselors will work with an elder to assess their needs, explain what they can expect, help gather the necessary paperwork, and begin the application process.
Sometimes, an elder may decide to apply for some programs but not others. “Then, later down the road,” says Barbara, “once they’ve made that connection that Margarete’s talking about, they’ll decide, ‘Well, you know, maybe I should talk some more with that person about other benefits.’”
Volunteering with elders through LifePath, Margarete and Barbara have learned to “respect where they’re coming from and to honor their strong desire to be as independent as they can,” says Margarete. “And that’s what I really like about doing this work. LifePath focuses so much on helping the elders stay as independent as they can in their lives.”
Both women agree that LifePath has been a supportive setting for their volunteer experience. “I just love that as volunteers we can go out into the community and assist elders that need help,” says Margarete. “The other piece is how we get help. I feel like I can call on somebody. I can certainly call Gretchen,” says Margarete. “She meets you where you’re at as a volunteer.”
Barbara agrees. “Where to start!” Barbara says that Gretchen helps “on all different levels, from running these trainings that we do periodically to refresh our memories on things that maybe we’ve learned before but we haven’t actually practiced recently or to introduce new topics.”
The monthly meetings and ongoing training give volunteers “an opportunity to meet different service providers,” says Margarete, “and learn how we can then offer those services to the elders that we support and serve.” When she has submitted an application for a client, Margarete will also share it with Gretchen, who will review it and provide feedback so that Margarete can do a better job the next time. “It’s important to me that I have a really high success rate with the elders that I help.”
Barbara says she values being “able to call Gretchen whenever we have a question or an issue or we’re not sure how to proceed. She’s very thorough.”
Margarete appreciates that volunteering with LifePath has allowed her to manage her time as she chooses while still making a difference in the lives of others. “One of the first lessons that Gretchen taught me was that I was a volunteer and that I could say no when I wasn’t available without feeling guilty or (worrying) that I wouldn’t be called on again to provide a service,” says Margarete.
“I frequently tell people that I am assisting elders and always look for an opportunity to encourage them to find what makes them happy,” says Margarete.
Would volunteering with LifePath make you happy? Give LifePath a call at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259 to inquire about volunteer options, email us with questions, and read about other volunteers’ experiences on our blog.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Healthy Living Leader Alan Young
It all started with a meal.
Alan Young didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he signed up six years ago to take LifePath’s “Healthy Eating” leader class, which offers training for leading workshops about how what you eat can affect your health. “I wanted to learn about nutrition,” says Alan. “I had no intention whatsoever of ever doing the classes.”
Not long after, however, Alan bumped into a woman who’d been in the class with him, and together they decided to try out leading at class at the Shelburne Senior Center. On the last day of the workshop series, the class cooked together for each other and the senior center staff. “So we had about 14 there that day,” says Alan. “And then Cathy (the senior center director) approached me: Would I be interested to have the class help me and prepare a meal for the community? She said it might be 25 people. Well, 25 turned into 63. I had nightmares in preparation for that, but we prepared that meal, and that was what started me in here.”
All these years later, Alan is still an avid volunteer at the senior center, and he has offered the Healthy Eating workshop numerous times around the local community. “I like the idea of bringing bright food and challenging ideas and expect more of people,” Alan says. “I think of that mango salsa. That is such a setup. ‘Mango salsa?!?’ they all go,” laughs Alan, “and then the next thing you know they’re fighting over the last remnants of it when I bring it in as a treat.”
Recently, Alan co-lead a Healthy Eating workshop at the Greenfield Senior Center with Healthy Living Program Coordinator Marcus Chiaretto. “There’s something special about the workshop series that we did. It’s so unifying because everybody has some sort of cultural history that relates to food,” says Marcus. “We can still enjoy the food that we enjoy, but try to make it a little bit healthier and make it so we can improve other aspects of our life through food – it’s a real joy to teach.”
“In a lot of cases it’s not about reinventing the wheel,” Alan adds. “It’s about going back to the way people ate earlier in their lives, particularly in this generation, because people who are in their 70s and 80s now were eating in the 1930s and 1940s as young people, and they ate better – simpler, but better. So a lot of times it’s just reawakening that interest in the food.”
For many who participate in the Healthy Eating workshops, the joy of cooking has been lost. “The missing piece for food for so many people now is community.” After cooking all their lives, says Alan, “they’re bored, so they often eat a convenient thing rather than a healthy thing.”
Marcus agrees. “Cooking for one person – if their spouse passed away or their kids moved out – and just being bored with cooking the same things over the years” can make people feel that food is unexciting. The Healthy Eating workshop “really opens up a whole new world of cooking and food to people that they may not have seen otherwise.”
Alan knows how to make sure his workshops aren’t leaving anyone bored. “There’s something about the eagerness. You know? One of my gauges is: are they looking at the clock as it approaches the stated end of the workshop? Or are they so absorbed that you have to remind them, ‘Well, we may want to start thinking about cleanup now.’”
And after so many years of volunteering, how does Alan stay interested? “For me, it’s about the stories when you gather people around food – you gather them around a project, any kind of common thing. I have just heard wonderful family stories because people relax and trust you over time and then the conversations go where they go.”
In addition to leading Healthy Eating workshops, Alan is also trained to lead “Tai Chi for Healthy Aging” through LifePath, and he offers knitting and art classes at the senior center. “When I look at the amount of hours I spend doing this, sometimes I’m surprised. I just get more out of it than I put into it. I always leave feeling energized and interested and wanting to come up with the next thing that’s gonna keep people involved.”
- Written by Jessica Riel
As a Rides for Health volunteer, Marvin makes a difference to Terry Day
Rides for Health, Program Director Trevor Boeding knew just the right person for him to be matched with: Theresa (Terry) Day.When Marvin Kelley signed up to volunteer with
“One of the fun things that we did,” says Marvin, “was to start chatting in the car on the way to the doctor.”
“It was like I’d know him for a long time,” Terry laughs. “It was very comfortable.”
“Right away,” Marvin adds. “She left her umbrella in my car - that’s how much she enjoyed it!”
“Make sure he’s coming back!” Terry responds, the two laughing like old friends.
One of the newest programs at LifePath (formerly Franklin County Home Care Corporation), Rides for Health matches volunteer drivers with home care clients in need of a ride to places like their doctor’s office or pharmacy.
“Oh, I think it’s great,” says Terry. “I don’t have a ride to go anywhere. It gets me where I need to go, when I need to go.”
“I’m retired… loving it,” Marvin laughs. “I love to drive, I like to meet new people, I’ve always enjoyed people of my age or older. Helping has been kind of a theme in my career and my life, and now I’m involved here with Rides for Health.”
In addition to providing Terry with a ride to her medical appointments or the pharmacy, Marvin is more than just a driver. “He hooks my seatbelt,” Terry explains. “Marv walks me into my appointment, he tells me to watch because there’s a curb coming up, he’s sitting there waiting when I come out, and walks me back to the car. He’s right there beside me.”
“We hear over and over again that transportation is really a critical unmet need for the area,” says Trevor. “This program was developed to respond to that need.”
Marvin appreciated the training he received with the other volunteers. “I expected to be trained and screened. That adds an element to my confidence in being able to provide this kind of service.”
“Our hope for the Rides for Health program,” says Trevor, “is to expand the number of volunteers that we’re able to provide and thereby be able to serve more elders.”
Marvin encourages you to become a volunteer. “Give it a try,” he says.
Becoming a volunteer is simple. After completing the application process, you will attend a half-day of training. For application materials and more information, go online to LifePathMA.org/RidesforHealth to download the forms or call Trevor at 413-773-5555 x2241 or 978-544-2259 x2241.
- Written by Jessica Riel
A Volunteer’s Story: “A friend of the residents”
Meet Annmarie Newton, Ombudsman
Annmarie Newton has been volunteering with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at LifePath (formerly Franklin County Home Care Corporation) for nearly a decade. “And I've been involved with them in different positions for about 19 years,” Annmarie says. “We have a little joke over at LifePath. ‘Once you start with them, you never get away.’ And it's true! Because they make it so easy for you and so pleasant.”
It all started after she retired, Annmarie says. “I wanted to do something worthwhile to help people.” She learned about the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and signed up to volunteer, visiting the residents of a local nursing home, and it’s worked out well. “I can't tell you how much I enjoy this job. I really do.”
“The Ombudsman is an individual who goes into a long-term care facility and visits with and advocates on behalf of the residents,” says Trevor Boeding, Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Director. “The whole goal of their work is elevate the quality of care that people receive and the quality of life that they participate in at the facility.”
Annmarie works with 44 residents at Quabbin Valley Healthcare in Athol. “I would say that I'm a friend of the residents. I enjoy visiting with them and, once I get to know them, they feel very at ease with me and let me know if they have problems or if they're upset about something,” says Annmarie. Like all Ombudsmen, Annmarie listens to residents and assists them by advocating and problem-solving with them in collaboration with the nursing facility staff. “You know, they have problems just like young people. They're lonely, discouraged sometimes. They're sad. They're crabby. Just like everybody, except that they're in this place. If their bed is uncomfortable or their wheelchair isn't just right, things like that, I just go back and talk to the aides about it and see what we can do to make their life more comfortable.”
Annmarie takes urgent issues to Trevor Boeding, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Director. “Trevor and I have a good relationship. If ever I have a problem, I call him, and he solves it for me.”
Residents also share their good news with her, such as the birth of a grandchild. “It's an easy relationship. It's a nice relationship. And I'm happy that they can count on me, that they feel that they can trust me. I think that they think of me in many ways as a friend – I hope so anyway.”
Annemarie encourages others to volunteer as Ombudsmen or in other capacities at LifePath. “LifePath has made a lot of difference in my life. I've enjoyed it all and I hope that I will be able to continue with them for many years to come.”
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Money Manager, Beverly Petravage
Money Management program, she’d already been volunteering for many years.Beverly Petravage retired just five months ago but, like many volunteers who make a difference in the lives of others through LifePath's
“I didn’t want to wait until I retired,” says Beverly.
Claire needed a little help, and Beverly knew she could do it
As a volunteer, Beverly currently works with one client, Claire*, who is 91 but still does her own cooking, cuts her grass in the summertime, and keeps her mind active in the long winter by completing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Claire just needs help with managing her personal finances, and that’s where Beverly comes in. The two have been meeting monthly for about eight years.
“For her, this is really important. She needed someone to handle her checkbook,” says Beverly. For some people, that’s second nature, but for others, “that’s a daunting task.”
What's it like to be a volunteer Money Manager?
The whole bill-paying process only takes about thirty minutes to an hour once a month. Claire calls Beverly and arranges a time for her to come to her house. Together, Beverly and Claire go through her bills. “She piles them up for me. I do the checks. She signs it, licks the envelope, and puts on the stamps,” says Beverly. “She just loves paying her bills. She walks them right out to the mailbox.”
Beverly got started volunteering in the Money Management program after receiving a mailer that mentioned LifePath’s need for volunteers. Her educational and professional background has been an asset to her for this work. A former business education major, Beverly taught high school business classes, so she is very comfortable with the types of things she does for Claire, like balancing her checkbook and writing checks.
Even still, she’s confident that another person could volunteer as a Money Manager without a background in business or finance. “You get a lot out of it, just like volunteering to do anything,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to help someone. It has to be something you really enjoy doing. I don’t want it to feel like work.”
Meaningful for the elder - and the volunteer
After everything is taken care of, Beverly will stay and chat for a while longer before heading out. They’ll talk about Claire’s flowers - she has some growing out front and her home is filled with Christmas cacti. Sometimes Claire will give Beverly a gift, like an apple, and one time she gave her a Christmas cactus of her own. “It blooms around Christmas time,” Beverly explains, the flowers vibrant pinks and reds.
Beverly is glad to be able to help Claire in a way that is meaningful to both of them. “She knows she can depend on me,” says Beverly. “I enjoy it - helping someone that really needs the help, sharing knowledge that you know with someone else.”
(*name has been changed to protect privacy)
Volunteer opportunities near me
Find your volunteer opportunities with LifePath. Call us at 413-773-555 or 978-544-2259.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Meals on Wheels driver, Alan Coutinho
“My first priority is giving back to any community that I’ve lived in,” says Alan Coutinho, a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver. “I’ve been driving in the town of Shelburne for ten years.”
On a warm September day, Alan waits outside the Senior Center in Shelburne Falls. Soon the shuttle driver will arrive with hot and cold meals prepared at the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Millers Falls.
"They all have their stories"
“I enjoy the interaction with all my clients,” says Alan. “You learn some great history and stories that you’d never have known without meeting these people. They’re all unique and special in their own way. They all have their stories.”
Alan heard one story that’s stayed with him. While delivering meals to a woman and her daughter who were both recipients of the service, he learned about her late husband. In the Navy during WWII, the man was aboard the SS Indianapolis when it sank in the South Pacific and survived several weeks in shark-infested waters before being rescued.
Alan is a Navy man himself. After 27 years in the military, where he traveled around the world during the Cold War as a Naval Cryptologist, Alan retired to Shelburne with his wife, Deborah, who is originally from the town.
Deborah continued to work as an EMT and as an in-house personal care worker, and Alan kept his eye out for opportunities to help out in his new community. “I’m not going to stay home and do nothing,” says Alan. “I have to keep busy.” When he saw an ad in the paper saying that LifePath was looking for volunteer drivers to deliver Meals on Wheels, Alan signed up.
Meals on Wheels is a family tradition
“Thirty-five years ago, my father used to deliver Meals on Wheels in Martha’s Vineyard. The person that I trained with had done it for 21 years. He was 85 when I took over his route.” Alan is 74-years-old now. “So I’ve been doing it for ten - I’ve still got a ways to go to catch him.”
The shuttle driver arrives, and Alan is up and in action. “I’m loading my car with my hot and cold meals; I’m getting a list of new and existing customers that have either cancelled or stopped, and a new customer that I’ve got to start today. So, onward and upward. With all those customers, it totals 24 today.”
Driving 40 to 50 miles each day, Alan will visit between 20 and 25 homebound elders on any given day. “I do it five days a week, so I enjoy it,” Alan says. “I enjoy talking to my clients, and I hope that they enjoy taking with me.”
On the road to Emily's house
Alan likes to make each person smile. Every day, he brings along a new joke to share. On this day, one of Alan’s clients is Emily Nelson of Ashfield. On the road to her house, Alan says, “She’s an avid reader.” He has a new book for her to read this week.
When Alan arrives, Emily is sitting in a rocker on her front porch, taking in the sun. She has a paperback in her hand and calls out to Alan with a smile, “You’re late!”
Alan shoots her a grin and comes up to the porch, chuckling. “Haven’t you finished that one yet?” He holds up the book he’s brought, another David Balducci thriller. The story will only take her four and a half hours to read through before she’s ready for another.
Living on her own in an apartment in the country, Emily got through her recovery period after hip surgery thanks to the help of Alan and those books. “He’s amazing,” Emily says.
They go inside, and Alan places a hot meal of Jambalaya, brown rice, peas, whole wheat bread, and Mandarin oranges on Emily’s kitchen counter. “Without the Meals on Wheels he delivers,” Emily says, “I wouldn’t get nutrition. I’m a grazer. I don’t eat real meals.”
"Now they're like family"
“Bringing a hot meal to each individual is considerably better than them staying home and eating food out of a can or cheese and crackers because that’s all they have,” says Alan.
If a client is not in their normal place, the drivers get worried. “A lot of my clients have family and friends that come in” with food or to visit, says Alan, but for many, they’re alone, and Alan is the only person they see all day.
“Wellness check is one of the big things,” says Alan. “You do make a considered effort to find out if there’s anything that they need: if the electricity is out, if the phone’s not working.”
After all that time together, Alan has become quite close with each person he visits. Alan will visit his customers when they are in long-term care or rehab facilities, and, when they pass away, he attends their funerals to pay his respects. “Now they’re like family.”
You can make a difference as a Meals on Wheels driver, too!
Join Alan and dozens of others who volunteer as Meals on Wheels drivers in their own towns and communities. To become a volunteer driver or to learn more, call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259. You can also email us to request more information or apply online.
- Written by Jessica Riel
The new Athol Senior Center sits in a building that, from the outside, appears to be full of humble storefronts. Once you enter the Center, however, you see that the space is quite large and inviting, with plenty of space for activities. In the rear of the building is the Athol Senior Dining Center, a new, spacious dining space with a good-sized kitchen, where two volunteers help guests feel right at home.
Irene Kazinskas has been volunteering at the Athol Senior Dining Center for four years. Kazinskas had not planned on becoming a volunteer the day she decided to meet a friend, Viola, at the Dining Center. “I just stopped in to have coffee with her,” Kazinskas explains. When she found out the Center was in need of help, she started volunteering. “It keeps me out of trouble,” Kazinskas smiles.
Robert Britt has been a Dining Center volunteer for 14 years, by his estimate, and he enjoys the work he does there. “I like to talk to the people in here,” he says.
Both the guests and the Dining Center Manager, Diane Coburn, appreciate their dedication. “I could not do this without Irene and Robert,” says Coburn, who has been managing the Center for about seven months. “It’s a real “Three Musketeers” kind of team effort, and it works very, very well.”
Kazinskas and Britt work closely with Coburn, preparing the meals in the kitchen, as well as with serving the diners and cleaning up once the guests have finished. “It’s been very interesting just to get to know these two people,” Coburn says. “Both of them make coming to work fun and so enjoyable. Irene has a sense of humor that doesn’t quit. She just makes me laugh all the time. She sees things that need to be done and does them before I even have a chance to think about them. She’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met.”
“Robert is a joy, too,” Coburn goes on, “and a very giving kind of person. He’s a hard worker. He also has a great sense of humor.”
Kazinskas and Britt do not limit their volunteering to the Dining Center, either. They also help out at the Senior Center, reports Program Coordinator Judy Thayer, who remembers both volunteers helping during the move from the old Senior Center to the new location on Freedom Street.
“Robert and Irene are wonderful people,” says Coburn. “They’re compassionate, too. They’re good to everybody. They just do whatever they can to help out.”
To find out about how you can become a volunteer, click here.