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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Volunteer network Villages lends a hand to seniors in Clark County

Older adults can get help with tasks around their home as they ‘age in place’

By , Columbian Features Editor
6 Photos
Volunteer Bruce Eavey of Villages Clark County walks to the front door of Hazel Dell resident Frankie Shetterly as he picks her up for an appointment on a recent morning.
Volunteer Bruce Eavey of Villages Clark County walks to the front door of Hazel Dell resident Frankie Shetterly as he picks her up for an appointment on a recent morning. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

While new assisted living centers are planned for Clark County’s aging population, most older adults say they want to “age in place” — that is, live out their last years in their own home.

The Village Movement seeks to help them fulfill that wish by deploying volunteers to do small tasks that become difficult with age but are necessary to maintain independence.

The movement originated in 2002 with the first “village” in Boston and has since spawned similar neighborhood-based membership organizations across the country. In 2019, Villages Clark County formed. It’s one of 10 such nonprofit groups in the greater Portland area that operate under the umbrella of Villages NW.

“Our population is aging out of their relationships,” said John Chapman, Villages Clark County organizer.

Maybe these older adults’ children moved away. Maybe they outlived spouses and friends. Now they don’t have someone to drive them to a doctor’s appointment or lift a heavy box in the garage.

Villages Clark County gives them someone to call. Volunteers can’t provide medical care or undertake big home projects, but they can assist older and disabled adults with chores and errands.

“It’s the kind of assistance you would expect from a friend or a neighbor,” Chapman said. “We can trim a bush or rake some leaves — but not provide weekly lawn care.”

Frankie Shetterly describes the help she receives from Villages Clark County as “lifesaving.” She has lived alone since her husband, Bob, died in 2012 at age 82. Her 3,000-square-foot Hazel Dell house is a lot for her to maintain.

Although she hires out housecleaning and yard maintenance, “Villages really fills in the blanks,” she said. “It’s the kind of things my husband did — smaller things — that they’ve done for me.”

She has two children living in the Portland area, and they helped her after the initial shock of her husband’s death.

“I was just totally thrown,” she said. “In that time when I wasn’t doing well, they were over here a lot. They had jobs, which made it difficult. Now they know that I have trustworthy help.”

For example, she used to take a taxi to medical appointments, but it was tricky to secure a ride home. Now she gets rides from Villages Clark County.

“The Villages people are friends. It’s a totally different effect. They’re right there. I know them. They make sure everything goes OK,” she said.

On a recent morning, volunteer Bruce Eavey drove her for a doctor appointment.

“You can’t help but build a relationship that’s pretty strong,” said Eavey, a retiree who underwent special training and screening to help as a Villages driver. He also lends his handyman skills.

Eavey said when he tells people he volunteers for Villages Clark County, the response is, “Villages? Where is it? How do I get there?”

He explains that it’s not a place but a network of people. Volunteers offer a hand. Members pay $50 a month to access that help, while associate members pay $25 a month. The money offsets the organization’s operating expenses; volunteers receive no compensation.

“Associate members join to sustain the organization so that when we really need it, it is still there,” said Chapman, who is both an associate member and a volunteer. “Associate members don’t get volunteer assistance except three or five times a year.”

Chapman, who is retired, became intrigued by the Village Movement after moving to Vancouver from Florida in 2015. He was part of the steering committee that spent three years getting the local group up and running. It now has 40 members and 40 volunteers.

Volunteers undergo vetting and training. They might help a few hours a week with yard and garden care, minor home repairs, running errands or figuring out computers or other home electronics — wherever their abilities and interests lie.

Volunteers visit the homes of prospective members to make sure the required assistance is within the scope of what Villages Clark County can offer.

If you go

What: Introduction to Villages Clark County and aging in place

When: 10:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: First Methodist Church, 706 N.E. 14th Ave., Camas

Information: 360-553-1520; villagesclarkcounty.org

Chapman said the eventual goal is to spawn more groups focusing on smaller sections of Clark County, like Ridgefield and Camas/Washougal.

“We like to say we’re ‘neighbors helping neighbors stay neighbors,’ ” he said.

So far, it’s worked for Shetterly.

“At the starting of COVID, I thought I should go into a retirement home. I’m getting to this age and that’s what everyone does,” Shetterly, 90, said. “I’ve been here in my home almost three years that I might not have been. It’s been thanks to Villages.”