A Volunteer's Story
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Meals on Wheels Driver Jane Dutcher
Meals on Wheels volunteer driver pickup point to collect several electric thermal bags of hot, prepared meals and coolers filled with cold milk and bread. She packs up her car to deliver each meal to an elder on her route that winds through the main drags and back roads of Gill, Northfield, and Bernardston, sometimes dipping into the edges of Leyden and Greenfield.On an early winter’s day, Jane Dutcher of Bernardston heads out to a
Jane has been a volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program at LifePath for over 15 years. After raising four children with her husband and retiring from a career as a computer programmer, Jane got started with the encouragement of another volunteer driver. “I remarked in front of the wrong person that I had to find something to do,” she says, “that staying home and not having an occupation wasn't my forte, and that person worked on me to volunteer to drive.”
Jane generally sees between eight and 23 people on her route. “The number goes up and down,” she says. “Some people are on because they had a surgery and they need the service until they get their strength back and are able to do things for themselves again. Some people are not ever going to get off that way. Some people leave because they go to a nursing home.”
These past 15 years, one constant in Jane’s weekly service has been the smiling face of Bev Gale of Bernardston. When Jane arrives at Bev’s house, Bev’s daughter opens the door to usher her in. Bev sees Jane, and the warmth of the connection between them fills the front room where Bev sits in her wheelchair. “I love her,” says Bev. “She’s so smart.”
“She likes the lasagna, but she loves Jane,” Bev’s daughter chimes in. “It's nice that mom gets a hot meal, and she has a friend. [Jane] brings a smile to her face.”
Bev, in her 80s now, says she was about 40 when she got the wheelchair. In time she also became involved with Franklin County Home Care (now called LifePath), so that when her home health aide could no longer be there for lunchtime, Bev was able to sign up to receive Meals on Wheels five days a week. Jane is her driver on two of those days.
“On the days that Jane comes,” says Bev’s daughter, “I know that I can go to Greenfield and not hurry, because [I] know that Jane's going to come and bring Mom her meal and she will tell my dogs to be quiet, so I don't worry. I can get down there and back and don't rush.”
Many volunteer drivers find meaning in knowing that for many of the people on their route, the driver may be the only person they see that day - or even that week. Jane says she also finds “the fact that I'm not afraid of their dog or their cat means a lot to them.”
Bev has three dogs. “Two chihuahuas,” she says, “Leroy and Winnie.” Emma, a good old girl, is a beagle and sheltie mix. Bev also fills her time with reading detective novels, browsing the internet, and putting puzzles together. “I'll go for 500 [pieces]. But I'm thinking about a thousand.”
“We don't do no more thousand-piece puzzles, do we?” says Bev’s daughter. “Sometimes we do.”
“Sometimes we put them back in the box!” says Bev.
The three women laugh together before Jane heads back out and onto her next stop.
A light snow is falling as Jane pulls up to the house where Janet Ross lives. She knocks on the teal-colored door, calling out, “Meals on Wheels!”
Janet, in her 60s and wearing a big smile and a purple sweater adorned with snowflakes, opens the door with a warm welcome for Jane. A small, orange-and-white tabby cat sits perched up on a spiral staircase, watching the interaction from a distance.
Jane hands over the meal, which Janet places on her purple walker, and the two women walk into the window-filled dining room to sit down and talk for a bit.
“Every week she comes, knock, knock, knock, knock, ‘Meals on Wheels!’” says Janet. “[Jane] says it loud enough so I know who it is, and always to make sure I'm okay.”
Sitting in the home that belongs to her son, Janet shares that she and her husband have lived here for a few years. When her son invited his parents to move into the spare bedroom, Janet says, “It worked out perfectly, because my rent was going up at the time. My husband was already working seven days a week, and I said, ‘You know what? We don't need this anymore.’”
After 40 years running their own printing business - “from beginning to end, from taking the order, designing it, typesetting it, making the plates and negatives, and my husband would put it on the press; then we would take it, jog it all down, make pads or whatever we had to do, business cards, box it, ship it out” - the couple sold the company and moved from the south coast of Rhode Island to Franklin County, Massachusetts.
“My caseworker Therese from LifePath came over here,” says Janet, “and she said, according to my income, my age, my disability, that I was eligible for Meals on Wheels and a couple of other things, too. So I grabbed it.”
Janet enjoys the meals. “I'm very thankful because it's always a balanced meal. I would not normally eat like that. Every day is a new, healthy meal.”
Even more so than the meals, Janet says she is impressed with how the drivers show their concern for her wellbeing. “With Jane and with all the people who deliver, they're not just concerned about my health, that I fall down on the ground or something like that, [but] even my mental state, talking to me, ‘How's everything going with you?’ She always drums up a story to make me talk back. I think she wants to see if I'm with it or not.”
Living with family, Janet has others she can rely on, but she knows that not everyone has the same level of support. “My daughters call me every day. I have people to talk to. [Some] people have nobody to talk to. She goes in and that must mean the world to them, just having somebody to talk to, you know? I appreciate it.”
Personally, what she gets out of it as a volunteer, says Jane, is “just the pleasure of knowing that it helps.”
If you’d like to support the Meals on Wheels program at LifePath by giving your time as a volunteer, contact us at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, or visit LifePathMA.org/MealsonWheels.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Money Manager Sue Dunbar
Though Sue Dunbar of New Salem is retired, she keeps herself busy as a church treasurer, library assistant, and volunteer money manager through LifePath.
“I was the elementary band director at the Amherst Public Schools for 38 years,” says Sue. “I have several irons in the fire, and all I got rid of was one when I retired, which was the teaching. I still do a few private lessons here and there.”
Just a couple weeks before she retired, Sue happened upon some information about the Money Management Program at LifePath. “The church receives a lot of mail from LifePath,” says Sue. “A sheet said, ‘We’re looking for money managers, would you post this and let someone in your congregation know?’”
Through the Money Management Program at LifePath, volunteers are trained to assist elders and people with disabilities who have difficulty writing checks or managing their basic living expenses for many reasons, including vision difficulties, memory difficulties, and physical disabilities. Types of assistance can include:
- Writing checks
- Balancing a checkbook
- Sorting bills
- Developing a budget
- Monitoring income and expenses
- Developing a repayment plan
When she saw the information from LifePath, Sue thought, “Hey, that’s right up my alley, I could do that.” Sue was a bank teller at one point, she says, “so I have no fear of checks, balancing money and all of that, and being the church treasurer, I handle money and write checks anyway. So I sent in a letter saying if you still need someone, please let me know, I’m freshly retired, or I will be in two weeks, and the next day I got a letter back that said, ‘Please come in immediately; we want you.’ And that was almost five years ago.”
Over the years, Sue has built meaningful connections with the people she’s helped. “I love the people that I’m matched up with here,” says Sue. “I really sincerely care about how they progress as they’re getting older, how their children are treating them, and what decisions they’re making with their money.”
For each client, Sue starts off by getting everything organized. “I make a big check register to show exactly how much money they have, where is it going, are there any bank fees.” Sue makes one copy for the client and one for herself, leaving off any identifying information. “Whenever I’m at that person’s house, I’ll fill out that binder and my own, and make sure the checkbook is in good order. It just makes me feel better. It’s like making your bed, just leaving your room and having everything tight and nice, tidy.”
“Every one of them is different,” says Sue about the people she helps. “The end result is keeping that person safe, keeping that person financially stable.”
When she first started with one client, he had two car loans. “Over the course of two years,” says Sue, “we got both car loans paid off by paying more than the principal.”
Money managers can even help protect their clients from financial exploitation. After someone improperly cut a tree on the property of one of Sue’s clients, causing the tree to fall onto the home, the elder and his family weren’t able to arrange fixing the hole in the roof. Sue turned to Money Management Program Director Ceil Moran for help. “She consulted with me and got extra resources for [him] about insurance and about elder abuse.”
As a volunteer, Sue has been able to participate in additional training sessions at LifePath. “I attended the information resource meeting, and that was very helpful. I got to know the heads of a lot of the departments, and so I know that I can always call and find out, if one of my clients has an issue, what to do next.”
Sue enjoys spending time with the folks she works with. “It’s not all business. We have fun! I get a cup of tea or coffee at every house of course, sometimes cookies or whatever. Sometimes I make them little gifts. It’s a nice friendship now, and they look forward to it.”
As a former band director who plays many instruments, Sue has even added her own special addition to her monthly visits. “As soon as I get done with whatever we have to do, I play for them, and they love that. I change it up all the time. They never know what I’m going to bring. As long as it’s not concertos or sonatas, because I can’t do that on every instrument.”
One day, says Sue, as she wrapping up with one of her clients at an apartment complex, the woman said, “Oh, would you just come over to this apartment? My friend wants to ask you a question.”
Sue went over to find ten women waiting for her, each with a special song request for Sue to perform on her flute. “They had planned this, and I had no idea! So I just played them all. It was very funny.”
Sue’s dedication has not gone unnoticed. This past spring, she received a Spotlight Award from the North Quabbin Community Coalition, which cited her willingness to “take on clients with very complex problems ranging from possible foreclosures to someone losing their benefits.”
"As a volunteer, Sue has gone above and beyond to ensure the financial well-being of those people she has served,” says Lynne Feldman, director of community services at LifePath. “We are grateful for the time she and so many other volunteers have given to LifePath."
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Money Manager Ted Penick
It all started nearly 20 years ago with the radio. Ted Penick was listening to WHAI and heard an interview about the Money Management Program at LifePath. “Somebody was on and mentioned this program which I’d never heard of. It sounded interesting – they even gave a phone number to call. That’s how I got connected.”
Ted was in the process of preparing for his retirement. “I was in the insurance business for 45 years,” says Ted.
Born in New York, raised in New Jersey, Ted went off to college, and his parents moved to Andover, Mass. After graduation, he moved to Massachusetts and started working in Boston.
At first his work took him all around the country, but soon he wanted to settle down. “My wife and I decided we’d like to be able to put down some roots while the kids were growing up.” Ted found a job in Greenfield, and the family moved into a new home in Northfield in 1972. “I don’t know if we’re still newcomers to Northfield,” Ted laughs, “but we’ve been there 46 years I think it is.”
Ted eventually bought the business he’d been working for. When it came time to retire in 2000, he sold the business and began to prepare for this life transition.
“My wife was getting a little nervous about having me under foot all the time,” says Ted. He spent time thinking about what he might to do get out of the house after leaving the workforce. “When I heard about this, there were other things I was considering, too, but this sounded probably more interesting.”
Ted’s experience, “having worked with numbers for many many years,” he says, meant he did not need a lot of training. “The job is to help the client get his bills paid and use his money wisely, and it’s almost always the case that they’re low-income people.”
Sometimes he’s helped clients learn to keep to a budget. “You cannot spend more than there is money available, and some of the clients are used to spending more than they’ve got,” says Ted. “Part of the job is to help them see the light.”
Ted has also helped people to get out of debt and change the habits that keep them there. “One especially I tell myself he’s a success story,” says Ted. “When Frank (all client names have been changed) came to the program, he already had over $600 in bank charges on his account for overdrafts. That was just his habit, and he knew it was a bad habit, but he just couldn’t resist spending money. At the time he signed up with us, he was behind in his rent to the landlord; it was a monthly check, room and board, and he couldn’t pay it until his social security came in the third week of the month. So he was just way behind. The bank would let him have overdrafts, and he could use his debit card when he didn’t have any money in the bank and he could still get $100 out.”
At Ted’s first visit with Frank, he was accompanied by Lorraine York-Edberg, the former director of the Money Management Program. Together, they spoke with Frank, who decided to give up his debit card. “That was a big step in the right direction,” says Ted. “Then we went down to his bank and told them what was going on, and of course they could look at his account and see how bad it was. Again I give Lorraine credit for talking the bank into writing off about half of the bank charges.”
Frank, who has difficulty writing checks, also decided to allow Ted to manage his checkbook. “He’s been on an even keel for a long time,” says Ted. “It’s worked out great for eight years.” With his finances in order, Frank does not have to worry about housing insecurity from being behind in rent or be concerned about affording his groceries or keeping the lights on.
When he’s needed some extra support, Ted has been able to turn to Lorraine and now Ceil Moran, the current Money Management Program director, for assistance. For example, when Ted found out that his client Karen owns a home but doesn’t have a will, Ted reached out for help. “I’ve been recommending that she have a will and she keeps putting it off,” says Ted. “I asked Ceil if she knew of a lawyer who might help out a person who doesn’t have much money but needs a will. She came up with a couple of names.”
Eighteen years on, Ted is happy with his retired life and volunteer service. “I have other things I do, too: I’m treasurer of two small nonprofits, both genealogy-related, they’re family associations that have organized and that’s a lot of fun. I like the numbers.”
The best thing about it, says Ted, is “just knowing that you’re helping somebody and nobody has to pay me. I’m, politically, kind of a small government guy, and some of the expenses that government pays I’m not real happy with, but in this work I feel like it helps somebody, and nobody has to pay me.”
“At a cost of less than one full-time staff person who coordinates, trains, and supports volunteers and works to make sure all involved are safe by auditing reports and bank statements,” says Lynne Feldman, director of Community Services at LifePath, “we help over 45 people each year stay financially secure.”
- Written by Jessica Riel
Steve McKnight serves elders and his community with Rides for Health
One day, after Steve McKnight retired from a long career with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation about three years ago, he was browsing through the newspaper when he came across a description of a new program at LifePath that was seeking volunteers.
“I thought, well, maybe I'll just give it a call and see what it's about,” says Steve.
After that phone call, Steve trained to be one of the first volunteers with Rides for Health. “We had a half-day training session that was very good,” says Steve. “They basically trained us in what we needed to do.” Trained volunteers in the Rides for Health program offer door-through-door assisted transportation to elders and persons with disabilities enrolled in LifePath’s Home Care program who need help getting to places like their doctor’s office or pharmacy.
Rides for Health Program Director Trevor Boeding matched Steve with a mother and daughter, Martha Shibilo and Donna Gates, who live together in Montague and do not drive. Both are fond of Steve.
“Steve is a very good match for us. He's very kind, he's very caring,” says Donna. “He's one of the nicest men you could ever meet.”
“I just call him and ask him if he can pick me up at a certain time, and he's right there. Hasn't refused me yet,” laughs Martha.
“He will come to the house, probably 15, 20 minutes early. He comes to the door,” says Donna. “Every time he picks us up and he leaves us, my mom always says, ‘What a nice man he is.’ And he is. He's a terrific man. And he's got a wicked sense of humor and he puts up with us.”
“He's got a big sense of humor,” Martha agrees, “and we enjoy him and don't know what we'd do without him.”
“They’re good people,” says Steve. “They're very easy to deal with and to bring to their appointment. When I pick them up for their appointment, a lot of times Martha now has to be in the wheelchair. I'll wheel her in and I'll sit with Martha and Donna in the waiting room, whatever doctor's office it might be. And we just talk and visit, and I wait for them and then bring them back home.”
The volunteer training covered how to assist those who may need extra help with mobility or accessibility issues, so Steve feels prepared. He has even gone above and beyond by taking the initiative to build a special stool with a handle to help those who need extra help getting into and out of his SUV.
“It's a wonderful invention he's made,” says Donna. “It’s very sturdy.”
“I purchased a small stool,” Steve explains, “and then I added the platform with a couple other sets of legs to make it stable. And it seemed to work.”
Steve has experience helping his own parents and his in-laws as they’ve gone through the challenges of aging. “My father, he's been blind for twelve years,” says Steve, “and my mother was going into Alzheimer's and dementia.” He feels good about being there for others who are in need. “I know people need this help because they don't have family to help them. It makes me feel good that I can kind of help somebody.”
Donna and Martha are grateful for Steve’s service. “Steve is really a good guy. He's used to being around old people like me,” says Donna. She especially appreciates how well he interacts with her mother. “He's very helpful. He never looks down on her. If she needs assistance, he helps. He kids her, he talks to her. So she enjoys visiting with him.”
Navigating to the doctor’s office used to be a cumbersome process, says Donna. “Prior to the driving service, we had to beg, borrow, and steal from people to get them to take us, and it's not always convenient. You're relying on other people who have lives. It just doesn't always work out the way you like it to.”
In the past, Donna and Martha have had to take a taxi, which “becomes very expensive,” says Donna. At times when they have tried to use the bus service, it has been challenging for Martha to get on and off the bus, and she is unable to wait the several hours it may take between a journey to the doctor’s office and the return trip home.
Without Steve, says Martha, “I don't know what I’d do. I really don't know what I'd do.”
In return for his service, Steve feels he is supported by Rides for Health, too. Program Director Trevor Boeding offers meetings every few months and is always available to answer questions from the volunteers. “If you have an issue, you can just call him up or you can email him,” says Steve. “He'll direct you or give you any information, help you. So it's very easy, really.”
The other Rides for Health volunteers have found ways to support each other, too. “The drivers got together and decided if we couldn't make our appointments,” says Steve, “instead of having to cancel them and try to reschedule, that we'd contact each other to see if one could fill in. And I've done that a few times with two different clients, and that worked out fine. They're very nice, too.”
Rides for Health is always looking for new volunteers to be matched with other clients like Martha and Donna in the Home Care program at LifePath. “Transportation to medically necessary appointments is a critical unmet need in the area,” says Trevor, who hopes that more people will join him and Steve in working to address this need by becoming volunteers.
Steve hopes others will be inspired to try it out, too. “I think anybody could do it if they want to do it.”
If you’d like more information about becoming a volunteer with Rides for Health, click here.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Gale Mason helps her neighbors learn ways to better manage their health
“I’ve always liked to teach. My favorite is teaching community members,” says Gale. “I think people are just hungry for information. They like to learn about their bodies, their health, things they can do.”
The Healthy Living Program offers volunteer-led, evidence-based workshops to people with chronic health conditions as well as their caregivers and loved ones, right in their own communities. Five different workshops help individuals learn habits to better manage their health through healthy eating, balance and exercise, and managing the general effects of chronic illnesses as well as more specific ailments like diabetes and chronic pain.
Before volunteer leaders co-facilitate workshops, they go through a multi-day training. “The training actually walks you through every piece of the program,” says Gale. “You practice with fellow leaders to be, and I found that to be very helpful. I learn better by doing than by just reading or listening.”
Gale picked what felt of interest to her: “My Life, My Health: The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program” covers all the territory, says Gale, the understanding of it and the tools to cope. Gale also trained to lead “Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls” and hopes to train to lead the “Chronic Pain Self-Management” workshop series next. “I feel there is a lot of overlap between chronic disease self-management and chronic pain self-management,” says Gale. “Both affect me as well.”
Whether it’s living with arthritis pain or managing an autoimmune disease, volunteer leaders in the Healthy Living Program tend to share the same health concerns as the folks who attend the workshops. “They have symptoms that all the participants in the workshop share,” says Gale, “so they are sort of perfect to lead those workshops.” That connection is one of the reasons that this program is so effective.
“People, even people like myself,” says Gale, “a senior citizen who has a number of chronic disorders, continue to think of themselves generally as healthy individuals. So when we say that his course is for people with chronic diseases, we're not saying somebody who necessarily has a life-threatening illness, although certainly they would be included, but people who have asthma or people who have irritable bowel syndrome, things that most of us would say, ‘Well, you know, that's that – I'm living with it.’ You know?”
Gale continues. “The issue is: How well are you living with it, and how well will you be able to continue to live with it?”
Healthy Living workshops help people at any stage of their chronic illness, whether they were just diagnosed or are further along. “We take you at where you are and give you the knowledge and the skills to make sure that you can not only maintain your overall health,” says Gale, “but protect yourself from future disability and move in the direction of – maybe even regaining – some of your abilities to do things that you haven't been able to do for a while. It helps you learn what you need to do, not specific to arthritis, not specific to COPD, but specific to the symptoms we all share.”
Just how does the workshop work? “The workshop is focused on small steps. You take small steps to reach your big goals,” says Gale. “I offer people the skills to make those changes themselves.”
The tools people learn help them to identify their personal goals and slowly form new habits to reach them. “Exercise is a big one,” says Gale. “Exercise is one of those things that all of us know we should do, but it can be very challenging if you live a busy life, if you have pain or other kinds of chronic diseases.”
People who attend the workshops find support in each other, too. “Within the group itself, you develop a rapport with anywhere from a half a dozen to a dozen individuals from all walks of life who are kind of united by a common bond – which is this chronic disease.”
Gale finds meaning in helping her neighbors. “To hear people say, ‘I wasn't able to do this before and now I am,’ and to say that they want to keep up with the support of other people in the group, even after the course is done – to continue to relate to those individuals that support each other and continue to grow in that respect – is just very rewarding.”
It is also rewarding to work with different co-leaders. “It’s fun to interact with people who have different styles of presentation and different backgrounds because you learn from them. I don’t want to just present, I want to learn and grow with the course as well.”
As a volunteer, Gale feels supported by LifePath. “Everybody provides positive feedback,” says Gale, “and if we have any requests or any needs, they’re met right away.” Leader meetings with Program Manager Andi Waisman and Program Coordinator Marcus Chiaretto, says Gale, “are a way for all of us to share our experiences and do some problem solving ourselves about how best to lead the course. And that’s enormously supportive because then you get to share experiences and hear what has worked and what hasn’t worked for other people.”
Gale believes that many people would enjoy becoming a volunteer leader with Healthy Living. “I think what it takes an interest in sharing information, an interest in health maintenance,” says Gale. “It does not take any professional background or expertise. A lot of people will say, ‘Well, I don't have facilitation skills,’ or, ‘I don't have leadership skills.’” Gale says the trainings and the workbooks provide all you need to know to lead the structured workshops. “What you need to bring is an interest and a willingness to share and an enthusiasm for the course and for your community.”
Medical professionals can benefit from becoming leaders as well, says Gale, who is not the only leader in the program with a healthcare background. “Sitting around a table and hearing their potential patients talk about the effect of the chronic illness on their lives can only be helpful for people who are treating these diseases.”
Even if practitioners cannot become leaders, she hopes they will recommend the program to their patients. “I think our healthcare system today would welcome support from community leaders who offer this course because it is helping their patients. Because of the way the healthcare system is structured, they don't have time for this type of education and ongoing support.”
Gale looks forward to co-leading up to six workshops in 2018. “The course is fun. We just have a good time. In addition to learning new things,” says Gale, “we laugh and enjoy each other's stories.”
Become a Healthy Living leader
Want to find out about upcoming workshops and register for a series near you?
- Written by Jessica Riel
Meet Gale Mason, Rides for Health volunteer
Gale Mason has been volunteering with Rides for Health for a little over a year. She was matched with Regina LoBello, who lives in Whately and is a home care client at LifePath. Gale has brought Regina to several of her medical appointments in that time.
Regina has vision loss, and she can no longer drive herself. “Gale has taken me to the retina specialist and she has taken to my cardiologist in Greenfield. The retina specialist is in West Springfield. I think she's also taken me to my primary care in Florence.”
Rides for Health volunteers offer more than transportation. Trained volunteers like Gale also help elders in LifePath’s home care program to get from the door of their home into the car, out of the car and into the doctor’s office or other location, and make sure that they’re comfortable moving in a place where they may not be able to see or navigate very well.
“I am usually right on time,” says Regina, “and Gale is even more so. And we allow ample time to get to our appointments and usually end up waiting for a while, but not for very long. Gale's very patient about waiting times. She takes a book or whatever to work on and doesn't seem to mind. So that is a relief to me, not to worry about someone waiting for me.”
Gale, who has a degree in Public Health, was a nurse practitioner for over 20 years, and worked as a nurse prior to that. “I did rheumatology and oncology.” After retiring, she looked for a way to give back. “We lived in this area, but I commuted to Springfield. So my whole career has been working outside of these communities, which is one of the reasons I was so happy to find something here in this area that I can really grow with the community.”
When looking into volunteer opportunities, Gale says she was seeking “an established agency with the right goals, right philosophy – which was for me sort of the public health philosophy – and more personally being to do the things that I’ve seen in my own life and my experience are needed.”
When looking at volunteer positions with LifePath, a local nonprofit that helps elders and people with disabilities maintain their independence, the Rides for Health program resonated with Gale. “This is such a great program. I mean, I've believed in it from the start, from the minute I heard about it. I'm committed to keeping people in their homes as long as they can stay in their homes. It's what I want; it's what my husband wants. It's what my parents wanted,” says Gale. “And I think that's much easier done locally because we don't have families that live all together in one community anymore.”
Both women enjoy their car rides together. “It's a two-way street,” says Gale. “It's not just me helping Regina. I get a lot from talking to her and learn more about the communities and it's a lot of fun. And I find it informative. I'm learning all about the communities I've lived in but haven't known much about. I learn about the different services in those communities. I am able to share that with other people that I encounter. So that's all good for me.”
Regina knows it would be a lot harder for her to get to her necessary appointments without the Rides for Health program. “I would have to depend on family,” says Regina, “which would very difficult because no one's around. I have a daughter in South Carolina and my son is Maine. My [other] daughter is in Beverly. It would mean that one of them would have to give up whatever they're doing and get out of work and come and take me.”
As a volunteer, Gale values the support she gets from the program and Trevor. “Trevor's been wonderful,” says Gale. “He responds very quickly. If I have questions – and I think I had quite a few initially – he's right there with answers.” She also appreciates meeting with other volunteers. At a recent meeting, the volunteers agreed to serve as backup drivers for times when they couldn’t meet someone’s need. “It’s great having that support within the group as well.”
Regina is grateful for Gale and Rides for Health. “She is very professional and very kind and compassionate. I just think it's a wonderful service and I feel very happy and blessed, really, to have her.”
Is volunteering with LifePath the meaningful way to give back that you’ve been looking for? 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.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Linda Ackerman makes a difference to local elders living in nursing and rest homes as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman volunteer
Linda Ackerman is a familiar face in Turners Falls. As manager of Greenfield Savings Bank on Avenue A, Linda enjoys giving back to her community – she was born and raised in Montague. “I love my bank and I love my town,” says Linda.
Linda has been supporting the mission of LifePath for over two decades. She first started as a supporter of Meals on Wheels by walking in the annual Meals on Wheels Walkathon to raise money for the home-delivered meal and wellness check program. These days, Linda is also a volunteer.
One of her roles is within LifePath’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. As an Ombudsman volunteer, Linda visits with residents at New England Health Center (NEHC), a nursing facility in Sunderland.
Before they passed away, Linda had been very close to her parents. “After they passed,” she says, “I kind of didn’t feel needed anymore. My children are grown up and don’t really live that close to the area.” So she met with Trevor Boeding, Long-Term Care Ombudsman program director, and signed up for a volunteer training. She has now been going to NEHC weekly for two years.
Linda says this work is personally meaningful to her. “I miss my Mom and Dad, and if I can help someone else’s mom and dad, who might not be able to be that close, then it makes me feel good.”
Linda believes others would enjoy becoming volunteer Ombudsmen as well. “Anyone going into it, they don’t have to worry about having a medical background,” she says. “You’re always learning.”
Do you want to learn more about becoming a volunteer Ombudsman?
Now is the perfect time! Volunteers are needed at several local rest homes and nursing homes, and the next free training will take place in Florence, Mass., from Monday, October 23, to Wednesday, October 25, 2017. With questions or to apply, click here or call Trevor Boeding at 413-773-5555 x2241 or 978-544-2259 x2241.
- Written by Jessica Riel
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Volunteer Allen Ross listens, advocates, and encourages residents of rest and nursing homes
Allen Ross was reading The Good Life section of The Greenfield Recorder one day when he came upon an article about opportunities to volunteer with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at LifePath. Having just retired, Allen had been thinking about what kind of volunteer experience would interest him. The importance of advocacy for residents of long-term care facilities resonated with him.
“It shone a light on the importance of working with this very vulnerable population in these settings,” says Allen, “putting into place structures that would offer advocacy and support for individuals in what might be the most fragile period of their lives.”
Allen has now been a volunteer Ombudsman at LaBelle’s Rest Home in Shelburne Falls for over a year. He enjoys hearing stories, as well as helping people find their strengths and learn to represent themselves.
Residents come from a variety of unique backgrounds; they have had times of trauma and resilience, various life expectations, and networks of loved ones. They may have experienced the loss of a life partner and changes in their health and community. They enter the facility and everything is new; in a residential living community, they might be sharing a room and interacting with people they may have never chosen to spend time with otherwise. Ombudsmen help to address problems, but they also help to initiate a person’s entrance into these new communities.
“You are the advocate of the residents,” says Allen. The focus is on confidentiality, listening, and establishing relationships with each resident, as well as helping to identify concerns. “The role of ombudsman really gave an opportunity to respectfully enter the lives of these individuals,” to offer support, listen, and “assist in helping them find their voice.” For those individuals who feel unable to address a situation on their own, Ombudsmen will act as advocates on their behalf with facility staff.
“There’s a good amount of training,” says Allen, “and you’re not thrown into the job, but gradually move into the position.” New volunteers go along on visits with Program Director Trevor Boeding, who checks in to make sure the volunteer is ready before venturing out on their own. “It’s very thoughtful assistance in building one’s confidence to go ahead and do it independently.”
Now, support is a phone call away, says Allen. He feels that he is given space to do this own thing but also appreciates the monthly meetings and says he doesn’t feel isolated as a volunteer, but can share issues with his peers.
“People have always interested me,” says Allen, who has always wanted to be helpful to others. “I look forward to coming each week to pick up where I left off.”
Do you want to learn more about becoming a volunteer Ombudsman?
Now is the perfect time! Volunteers are needed at several facilities, and the next free training will take place in Florence, Mass., from Monday, October 23, to Wednesday, October 25, 2017. With questions or to apply, click here or call Trevor Boeding at 413-773-5555 x2241 or 978-544-2259 x2241.
- 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) 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), 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.