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The covered bridge is an apt symbol of our efforts to help elders because both historic bridges and older citizens are admirable examples of enduring strength and continuing usefulness performing the service of spanning gulfs: bridges crosses topological gulfs, while elders’ lives span chronological gulfs. With some thoughtfully applied support and a bit of ongoing maintenance, both the bridge and the elder can continue aging gracefully in place while remaining assets to their communities.
Let me share with you a short chronology of local efforts to make this area more livable and enjoyable for all of us as we move into our “golden years”.
Bill and Carol Herbert set up a table in the gym lobby at Wilmington High School on Town Meeting Day last year. They greeted entrants and gave out bright red “File for Life” refrigerator magnets to keep important information easily accessible in case of a medical emergency. I introduced myself and learned that Bill became a member of the Deerfield Valley Rotary and shepherded this as a Rotary project. Bill dispersed these throughout the Valley, with information to obtain more if needed.
After that casual meeting, Bill and Carol invited me to join them several times for coffee to learn more about services for folks over 60. Bill had previously enjoyed working 8 hours/week for the Council on Aging in Harvard, Massachusetts. His focus was learning “how” people over 60 learned about services in this rural area and which services were meeting the greatest needs of folks over 60. His enthusiasm and interest grew into accompanying me to a Senior Solutions Advisory Board Meeting (I am the Council on Aging representative for Wilmington) and attended the quarterly “Cares Groups” meeting which informs members about local initiatives for “Seniors” living in their Southern Vermont towns. As Bill and Carol acclimated to full-time living in Wilmington their enthusiasm grew into a commitment to claim a space for “Seniors” at the Old High School Building in Wilmington.
Mary Fredette, Executive Director of the Gathering Place, (an Adult Day Program in Brattleboro) toured the vacant High School in June looking for accessible space to accommodate the folks that live in the Deerfield Valley that were traveling over the mountain to her program. She was immediately enthused so contacted me to learn more about the area and how we might grow a satellite program in Wilmington.
As a result of that meeting Mary and I facilitated two focus groups in the Wilmington Town Office meeting room which generated enthusiasm around the idea of creating a “Livable Community” in which seniors could “age in place”. Interested Valley residents met at Pettee Memorial Library the first three Wednesdays in December to strategize and build interest to grow programs to make that happen.
Attendees spoke at selectboard meetings in Wilmington, Marlboro, Halifax and Whitingham sharing their concerns that our local population was aging, yet young people were leaving to find jobs that pay a livable wage. We hoped each town might see this as an opportunity to plan now to meet the increasing needs for seniors to age in place and create local jobs in the process. Like the Cares groups along the West River Valley each of these towns had uniquely varied ways that tended to this issue but all were interested in learning more.
A small group of interested residents worked with Bill, Carol and myself to ask our select board for funds to initially create a newsletter, a resource guide and establish an official loan closet for durable medical equipment. Ultimately we obtained a $5,000 grant in Wilmington to begin this initial project
We know that families that skied here in the 70’s had positive experiences which led to a second homeowner boom which led to some of them retiring here and becoming an integral part of our community bringing energy and fresh ideas with them.
Let us know your interests or concerns. We are so-o-o thrilled to have Mary Towne, newly retired Administrative Assistant to the Town of Wilmington to educate us in this initial effort! And our feature writers will be Claudette Hollenbeck and Selma Schiffer. We are also grateful to partner with Cindy Hayford, Director of the Deerfield Valley Community Prevention Partnership to reduce mailing costs for hard copies of our newsletters. We DO NEED your help to identify folks over 60 that rent homes or apartments in the area since that information is difficult to obtain in this era of protecting privacy. Our goal is to be inclusive, NOT exclusive!
I am truly excited to enjoy the incredible energy and diverse ideas brought to this “Aging In Place Initiative”. Won’t you join us?
Jennifer Fitzgerald, RN
Wilmington Town Nurse