Neighbors Helping Neighbors — And Helping Seniors Age In Place

Common Sense for Seniors staff were recently in Reston, Virginia, where they attended a meeting entitled Neighbors Helping Neighbors and sponsored by Reston for a Lifetime. We picked up some ideas that might be useful to seniors living anywhere.

The important thing about the Neighbors Helping Neighbors concept for seniors is that we can fill the aging in place gaps by sharing with our neighbors. Maybe we live in a house with high ceilings, and we need help changing light bulbs. Perhaps we’re going go visit the children, and we need a ride to the airport, or a plant sitter. The leaves may need to be raked or the walk shoveled, and we could really use contact information for a couple of teenagers we could hire to do the job. Yet at the same time, there are things we can do for others. We might be able to drive a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or take care of their dog or cat while they are away.

The problem is that neighbors needing help, or able to offer help, may lack a means of communicating, which is kind of silly in today’s world of email, social media, and messaging.

Reston for a Lifetime is encouraging neighborhoods and townhouse clusters to create the means for allowing neighbors to communicate their needs and help one another.  This might take the form of a closed Facebook group or an email contact list — with an administrator to make sure the list is used for the intended purpose. Residents of all ages could submit messages about their needs and help others whose needs they might be able to fulfill. (I, for one — if I lived in Reston — would really enjoy dog sitting and would be happy to host a friendly canine for a traveling neighbor.)

The discussion also covered which is providing a contact service of this sort for thousands of neighborhoods across the country. Many of those in attendance had been cautious in signing up, wondering if they might receive solicitations or have other problems. But, in fact, they have found that works quite well. Common-sense seniors might want to check and see if their neighborhood is included.

Reston also has a Useful Services Exchange (USE), a community time bank, which allows members to build up hours by helping others and then collect on those hours when others help them. Available services include meal preparation,  tax assistance, child care, pet sitting, rides, and respite care. Time banks are found around the country, and there might be one near you. The Reston model is decidedly inter-generational – a feature that has strong appeal for Common Sense staff.

Staff concluded from the Neighbors Helping Neighbors meeting that seniors can do a lot to help themselves to age in place by helping others in their neighborhoods and receiving help in return. We’ll still need services for the aging, and we’re grateful for them, but there’s much to be gained by sharing our talents and abilities with others.



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