The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 17, 2000


O'Reilly Announces Resignation From Council On Aging: Reflects on Seniors and Aging

Ron O'Reilly, outreach coordinator for Carlisle's Council On Aging, has announced his resignation. O'Reilly is moving to New Jersey to be closer to family and elderly parents. "The date is indeterminate," he says. "It's up to the discretion of the board. As soon as they find somebody, I'll leave." O'Reilly, who has lived in the center of town for the past ten years in the 1789 Wilkins homestead, plans to head south no later than the end of May.

"I've been very clear with folks," says O'Reilly, who has held the 10-hour-per-week position for the past seven years, "I don't want to move." O'Reilly's predecessor, Lee Milliken, was the COA's first salaried employee 15 years ago."I really like Carlisle in many, many ways," O'Reilly continues, "I know the community and I'm part of the framework." O'Reilly hopes the town he is moving to will resemble Carlisle in size and population. "It's even more country," he emphasizes. Having sworn off old houses, O'Reilly admits that his new home is even older than the Wilkins property. "It was built in 1741," he says with a self-effacing laugh.

The Carlisle Council on Aging coordinates local, state, and federal programs and services that enhance the quality of life for its senior citizens. Anyone over the age of 60 is eligible, and currently, about 100 people use the services. Founded nearly 20 years ago as a grassroots effort, the COA now draws funding from state grants, town revenue and private contributions.

COA director, Liz Jewell, believes O'Reilly brought a unique focus to his role: he organized the men. "He started the men's breakfasts," she explains, "and we hope that they will continue."

The COA addresses the needs and concerns of older citizens through a variety of avenues. Bimonthly luncheons and breakfasts serve as social gatherings, plus the Meals on Wheels Program delivers hot and frozen meals. There's a walking group and a book club, in addition to classes in quilting, line dancing and swimming. One of the most popular resources is the COA van. Viewed as the senior taxi, the van, which was used over 500 times in 1999, makes weekly shopping trips to Westford and local outings possible. The COA also offers SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) Program, which provides free and confidential health-insurance counseling and assistance.

Outreach is a vital aspect of the COA. In addressing the needs of Carlisle's homebound residents, the COA offers emotional support, as well as concrete services, that allow elders to remain independent in their own homes. "It entails keeping sensitive to and tracking the needs of seniors in town," says O'Reilly, "especially those who have come forward." O'Reilly alerts them to the variety of resources and services available in town and beyond.

Isolation is a primary problem. O'Reilly feels elders tend to think people don't care about old people. "Carlisle's old-timers have the attitude that you 'make do with what you got,'" says O'Reilly. They are less aware of their own isolation, and more aware of physical pain or limitations. "But people who have lived in municipal settings say, 'How can I get help?'" O'Reilly admits to bringing an assumption to his position that all the old-timers knew each other. His image of a close-knit community changed, as he discovered the town was organized along church lines. Those who went to the same church knew each other. "It wasn't forgetfulness when so-and-so said they didn't know old Mrs. so-and-so," explains O'Reilly. "If they hadn't attended the same church, they probably hadn't gone to the same church suppers."

O'Reilly believes delivery of certain services to be the most important part of the outreach coordinator's job, but he describes "listening to people's stories," as the most meaningful. Not only does it suit his avocation as a storyteller, it gives him an appreciation for the courage and integrity of our wiser elders. "These are not lives of spectacular social impact," he says, "but I get to see how people have done their lives, how they held it together in style and spirit." He describes Anna Johnson, Guy Clark, Esther Wilson, and others, as characteristic of the true civic and cultural leaders of this town, people who guided and ministered to the town. "In some cases, their own memories may be gone, but when you talk to them, you have an image of the making of Carlisle."

O'Reilly regularly brings his sidekick, McCloud, on home visits to seniors. McCloud, a sturdy Samoyed canine, is more staff member than pet. His friendly nature and thick white coat put even the most uncertain seniors at ease.

For the future, O'Reilly would like to see what professionals call intergenerativity, the integration of younger and older generations. "We need to educate kids on senior life," insists O'Reilly. He believes the last stage of life is about claiming our lives, looking back and acknowledging what was accomplished. He hopes the COA expands programming and van services, as needed, adds more volunteers, and finds more people to be friendly drivers.

"I'm happy for Ron" Jewell says, "but he will be missed. She explains that part of O'Reilly's uniqueness was the male perspective he brought to a field dominated by women. Jewell plans to advertise soon for a new outreach coordinator. She sees the ideal candidate as someone living in Carlisle, someone who understands the uniqueness of both the community and its senior population.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito