River Valley Seniors at Home

WALPOLE — As we get older, seemingly simple tasks like changing a light bulb or heading to the grocery store can become a challenge. A new program based in Walpole aims to follow in the footsteps of other local initiatives, helping senior citizens tackle small projects that can force them to move out of their homes and into costly facilities.

“At home” programs for seniors have been popping up across the state and beyond, first emerging in Boston about two decades ago. A group of friends created Beacon Hill Village to help each other as they aged, sparking the so-called village model movement. At least 300 similar communities have risen in North America, according to the Village to Village Network, a national membership organization.

In the Monadnock Region, three villages are based on this model — Cheshire Village at Home in Keene, Monadnock at Home, serving towns around Mount Monadnock, and, most recently, River Valley Seniors at Home in Walpole.

“It’s not a health care organization. Our purpose is through volunteering services and assisting in small things that make life easier, we will allow seniors to stay in their homes longer,” said Tara Sad, director of the River Valley Seniors at Home program.

Village programs provide a network of volunteers to help with needs such as transportation and household chores. Seniors sign up for the service and pay a fee.

The program became an official nonprofit organization in December, and began accepting members in March. Sad said it’s in a pilot period, and will be for the next two months. Organizers want to make sure the program is feasible — numbers show the local senior population will be rising significantly over the next few decades.

By 2040, the proportion of Monadnock Region residents over 65 is projected to increase to 26 percent, compared to 15 percent in 2010, according to the Southwest Region Planning Commission.

Nationwide, 88 percent of adults 65 and older say they want to remain at home as long as possible, and 92 percent say they want to stay in their communities, according to a 2010 AARP survey.

“In Walpole, we have people who so love living in this town because it’s special. People who’ve lived here for years and years, or possibly their whole lives,” Sad said. “To have those roots snipped off because they don’t know how to deal with some part of life, I don’t think it’s right.”

The program has garnered 19 members strictly through word of mouth, Sad said, and has 17 volunteers. While still in the pilot period, Sad said members are paying $100 per year for services, but this will rise to $400 per person or $600 per couple annually once it’s in full operation. These dues, along with community donations, will cover the program’s operational costs.

Tom Crouse, board member for the program, said dues can also act as insurance for people who may need the program in the future.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’m too young for this. I will get it when I need it,’” Crouse said, “[but] if the people that don’t use it don’t buy it, you never have enough money for the people who do.”

Sad said they hope to expand the program into the entire Fall Mountain area — Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown and Langdon — as well as over the border in Saxtons River, Vt. But, for now, Sad said she is grateful they can at least help those in her community.

“This is helping people continue their lives,” Sad said.

For more information on the program, email Sad at rivervalleyseniorsathome@gmail.com.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.