“Do you know anybody who could rake my leaves?”
It was late October 2016, and Leonardo Ghio’s elderly client kept calling him.
And calling him.
Ghio, municipal agent/senior adviser for New Milford’s Commission on Aging, often visits older people at their homes to assist with their applications for state social services benefits (but leaf raking wasn’t one of them!).
Ghio decided to volunteer his time to rake his client’s yard, (“a saving grace for her”) and ended up kickstarting the New Milford Senior Center’s chore services program, which matches volunteers with older people in need of help with heavy chores—from grocery shopping to painting to fence repair.
Reflecting on that October morning, Ghio said, “It occurred to me that this can’t be the only person that needs chores like this—things we all take for granted because we can do them ourselves physically or we can afford to pay someone to do it. For people living on fixed incomes—about half our clientele—it’s a burden.”
Aided by grants from Connecticut Community Foundation (the primary funders are the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging and the town of New Milford), the chore services program has since provided more than 300 older people in New Milford with household upkeep and repairs—and has delivered the safety and peace of mind that comes with those. Grant dollars help pay for tools and materials needed for home repairs, and people receiving services contribute on a sliding scale.
Elaine Donahue, chore services volunteer coordinator at the New Milford Senior Center, helps recruit, screen and match a pool of 15-20 volunteers (teens through people in their 80s) with chores needed by older people in the community. She cites the deep bonds created between the older people and volunteers as keys to the program’s success.
Carolyn Haglund, director of the New Milford Senior Center says, “Volunteers become the eyes and ears on the ground,” often flagging unsafe or unhealthy home situations. Recently, Haglund said, a volunteer discovered an older person sitting in front of their stove because they had no heat. After a few phone calls and some funding for oil, all was well.
Safety and independence are the major benefits of the program for older people. Chore volunteers installed a wheelchair ramp for a homebound woman, prompting a grateful note from family members who had struggled to get their mom in and out of the house. Another client, Grace—in her 90s—was scaling 13 basement stairs in darkness until volunteers repaired her light fixtures. Grace had not repaired them herself; she feared falling off a ladder.
“It could have been disastrous,” says Donahue.
In fact, when the senior center held a “Kick Up Your Heels” line dancing fundraiser to benefit the chore program (with the aid of an event sponsorship grant from the Foundation), the last one to leave the dance floor well after 11p.m…was Grace.
Photo at top: Leonardo Ghio and Elaine Donahue at the “Kick up your heels” fundraiser to benefit the New Milford chore services program. The event was sponsored by Connecticut Community Foundation.
Watch Grace’s one-minute story: