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Legislative Viewpoint

Grassroots community supports for our hilltown seniors

Hinds Headshot 2017Senator Adam G. HindsAs much of my district is rural, including the Franklin County towns of Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Rowe and Shelburne, I want to share examples of how communities are taking care of each other despite challenges of transportation and distance. The community-building work that seniors are taking on in Plainfield, Chesterfield, Cummington and several more of our hilltowns across Western Massachusetts is so important.

The low populations and long distances from most everything can be challenging for seniors looking to get proper nutrition, healthcare and other services in the hilltowns. In my first year as state Senator I’ve worked with social service agencies across the region, with town and city officials and with my fellow legislators at the State House to take on some of these challenges. We’ve been working to improve rural public transportation and to reduce health care costs, but I know that to make the most progress for seniors, it’s also going to take programs like the ones being created by the hardworking – and thoughtful – volunteers in our hilltowns. The efforts of Ann Irvine in Plainfield, Lorrie Childs in Chesterfield, Lucy Fandel in Cummington and many others are working to make it easier for seniors to stay in their homes.

I’ve learned that all of these support networks have grown out of a series of discussion groups focusing on the 2014 book Being Mortal by surgeon Atul Gawande. The first of these book groups came together in Plainfield when Ann Irvine asked Peg Whalen to lead a series of Being Mortal discussions, which drew 32 seniors over the course of five weeks. Dr. Whalen is the outreach coordinator for a group of councils on aging in Chesterfield, Goshen, Cummington, Westhampton, Williamsburg, Worthington and Plainfield. The consortium of COA’s receives grant funding from the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

In Plainfield, the book discussion group has morphed into the Plainfield Cares program, which offers seniors rides to social events, recreation, entertainment, shopping and medical appointments. It also coordinates short-term help during an illness or after hospitalization. Trained members of the group have recently started visiting homes of the town’s oldest residents to identify unmet needs.

Another program, for all seven of the northern Hampshire hilltowns, is called Community Credits. The program matches people who want to offer volunteer help with those who would like to receive help. Chores that can be taken care of through the program range from gardening to wood stacking to cooking to house painting. Coordinator Lorrie Childs said she hopes that students from Hampshire Regional will become part of the group of volunteers who can provide help to seniors. Community Credits is supported by Highland Valley Elder Services Title 3 funds.

In Cummington, the Being Mortal book group has turned into a monthly discussion group called Living Fully, Aging Gracefully and Befriending Death. Additionally, a new program is forming in town called Cummington Community Care. The group’s plan is to strengthen townspeople’s abilities to face emergencies, large and small. One of the work groups is cataloging resources and needs. Another work group is getting trained to become a Community Emergency Response Team. A third group is planning to create a community freezer stocked with meals that can be had by those short on funds, energy or time.

It seems clear to me that all of this work is essential. It’s imperative that we care for our neighbors – and it’s important that we learn to accept help from others as we move into old age. So thank you, volunteers, who are maintaining and building community. And for making it possible for more seniors to stay in the homes they love.

For more information on these programs:

Plainfield Cares Transportation:

Jeannie Sargent, (413) 634-0170

Community Credits Program:

Lorrie Childs, (413) 296-4742

Cummington Community Care:  

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State Senator Adam G. Hinds (D- Pittsfield) represents the 52 westernmost communities of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District.  He serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development and the Senate vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies.  He is serving his first term in the Massachusetts Senate.