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Volunteers set to lend a hand to seniors

By SUSAN RIEMER
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
January 29, 2014 · Updated 3:05 PM
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When islander Nancy Slater had difficulty hauling wood needed to heat her home earlier this winter, she called upon a new program that provides free help to Vashon seniors.

Neighbor to Neighbor sent six volunteers, who tackled the task for Slater; over two days they hauled about two cords of alder up a hill to her home and stacked it neatly. It was a chore that Slater, 70, had tried to do herself, she said, but it was a long trek to the field and back, and she was glad for the help.

“I could not brag about them more because they were so kind and enthusiastic,” she said. “This is a hard chore, and they just did it.”

Neighbor to Neighbor, a program of the Vashon Senior Center, began in November, after more than two years of planning. So far, it has fielded only four calls for help — and center director Ava Apple is hoping that more people will pick up the phone and call.

“It would help me if you gave my volunteers something to do,” she said.

The intent of the program, Apple said, is to help seniors stay in their homes by providing free assistance with a range of chores —  from trips to the grocery store to raking leaves. It can also provide companionship for seniors who may feel isolated, and volunteers can simply stop by for a visit, no chores required.

Fifteen volunteers — a group of men and women all over 50 — have signed up to help, Apple said, and they have been thoroughly vetted with background and driving checks and have received CPR training. Now, they are ready to help island seniors with whatever needs to get done.

“I feel confident we have good folks,” Apple said.

Now that the holidays are over, Apple said she is beginning to talk to island groups about the program so that more people learn about it and take advantage of what is being offered. Julie Hempton is one volunteer ready to lend a hand, motivated, she said, by her experience of caring for her mother, who is in her 90s.

“I am just so aware of the little things that get harder and harder,” she said.

Hempton was one of the volunteers who helped stack Slater’s wood. The young son of one of the volunteers accompanied the group and helped, and a dog came along too.

“It was fun,” Hempton said. “We got exercise. We were outside and chatting with Nancy.”

Hempton enjoyed Slater’s company so much, she said, that she went back with a friend and had tea, which she said she hopes to do again.

Slater, who said she has already burned half of the alder the volunteers stacked, said she would not hesitate to call Neighbor to Neighbor again and encourages others to do the same.

“This idea of the Neighbor to Neighbor program is wonderful, and I think more people should make use of it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful asset for Vashon.”

The program is being funded by a six-month grant from Granny’s Attic, which provided $6,000 for the first half of 2014 and will provide an additional $6,000 if the program meets certain benchmarks. One of those benchmarks is that it serves 20 islanders by summer — a goal Apple expects to meet based on the research founding members did on the needs of island seniors. Still, she is encouraging island seniors not to hesitate to call.

“I really hope I start hearing from people,” she said. “We want the program to be a success so it will be here in the future.”

Neighbor to Neighbor services are free and available to any islanders 55 and older. For more information, call Ava Apple at 463-5173.

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