Friday, March 11, 2005
Carlisle Council on Aging: a model of community for all ages
To help Carlisle's older residents live happily, independently, and
safely in their own homes for as long as possible, the Carlisle Council
on Aging (COA) executes a two-pronged blueprint of social programming
and outreach that amounts to a smorgasbord of activities and services
for every taste and requirement, and even for multiple age groups.
Socializing keeps "Lonelyville" at bay
Carlisle's much-debated sobriquet, "Lonelyville," is a hot-button issue for senior citizens with limited mobility or without family nearby, and the COA responds with a wide array of social programming to get seniors and other Carlisleans together. Instructors and COA volunteers facilitate popular daytime programs like fitness and line dancing classes, a walking group, quilting and other handwork, arts and crafts, a book discussion group, and a chess club. From partnerships with other town departments come offerings like Carlisle Recreation's T'ai Chi class, and Gleason Public Library's art history and appreciation and music appreciation classes. There are luncheons, breakfasts, outings to local restaurants, and day and overnight trips. Longer trips to distant locations are organized by Joanne Willens of Ember Lane. On Monday, 21 COA seniors departed for a two-week journey to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. In November, participants will cruise the Rhine and Moselle rivers and enjoy food, wine, and the sights in cities like Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Prague, and a trip to Greece is planned for 2006. COA board chair Peggy Wang of Robbins Drive says these extended trips are among the most popular activities among Carlisle seniors.
Back at home, seniors can take weekly shopping trips to local markets and join with CCHS and Carlisle School students for various intergenerational events and programs. They can enjoy theatrical evenings at the North Shore Music and Merrimack Repertory theaters and CCHS, and regular excursions to the Museum of Fine Arts and other locations in the Boston area for new exhibits and events. The COA publishes a monthly newsletter, "Senior Connection," with a calendar and details of all the upcoming events and activities, and contact information for the COA office and van transportation line.
COA's outgoing director Liz Jewell reports that one of the most rewarding
things about her work with the COA has been the times when she has seen
COA program participants make new friends at a COA class or event and
then continue the friendships independently. She encourages seniors
to "try just one activity," and finds that many return to
enjoy more. Carlisle's seniors, she says, are "vibrant and inspirational,"
and "we cannot underestimate the importance of these [social interactions]
to their well-being."
Outreach programs keep seniors safe and in control
Even the most vigorous social calendar, however, cannot solve certain problems associated with aging. Retirement from the work force, diseases and disabilities can limit mobility and create anxiety about aspects of daily life that younger citizens take for granted. To address the needs and concerns of Carlisle's older population, the COA operates a sophisticated outreach program coordinated by Susan Evans of Heald Road. It works in concert with other town departments and with access to a wealth of service organizations and institutions in the greater Boston area.
First and foremost, COA maintains a telephone contact at 1-978-371-2895, where messages may be left at any time and will be returned. Seniors may also avail themselves of the COA van for transport to appointments within a 15-mile radius and to COA activities. Friendly Visitors provide telephone reassurance and home visits to homebound seniors. Evans chairs the Carlisle unit of the Salvation Army, and provides seniors with referrals there if they need the Army's services. With the Carlisle Police Department, COA runs the RUOK program, a daily well-being check available to all seniors in town. Evans urges all seniors to participate in this program: "I can attest to the fact that it saves lives." With the Carlisle Firefighter's Relief Association, COA distributes File of Life Kits. These kits enable an emergency medical technician (EMT) to obtain a quick medical history and personal information if a patient is unable to give it. The File of Life card lists the patient's information and is placed in a plastic pocket held with a magnet to the refrigerator for easy access in an emergency. Evans, who knows many of Carlisle's seniors well and enjoys delivering medical and safety equipment, a Thanksgiving dinner, or even just a favorite treat to those at home says, "I learn so much from them and I love to visit with them. I love living in a small town where you can really get to know these people and where there is so much cooperation in supporting this part of our community."
Information is power, and the COA helps seniors manage their lives
by offering seminars with current information on health, housing, finance,
legal and other issues. COA also administers Carlisle's Fuel Assistance
Program and the Senior Citizen Tax Work-Off Program, delivers Meals
on Wheels, and holds annual flu shot and monthly blood pressure clinics.
It provides print materials on a variety of topics and offers links
and referrals to area elder service organizations and institutions as
well. Families who are helping to care for an older relative may obtain
relevant literature and references from the COA office.
The COA began its life in 1986 in the home of a private citizen. For its first six years, it was operated out of the home of Lee Milliken of Estabrook Road, who was its first outreach coordinator. In those days, volunteer board members did the work of the director: programming, administration, running Drop-Inn Lunches, attending local area COA meetings. The outreach coordinator had the only paid position: Milliken manned the telephone, helped with the lunches, arranged services for individual seniors, made home visits, and provided van transportation. Until construction of the new town offices, the COA's home was a trailer in the swamp next to the fire station and, later, space in the building housing the dentist's office and insurance company in the center. In 1988, a director was hired to work with the outreach coordinator. Milliken and others went on to form the non-profit Friends of the Council on Aging in 1996 to raise funds to help pay for the newsletter, monthly blood pressure clinics and other services. The COA finally moved into its current Town Hall office in 1997.
A bright future
All the COA participants will miss the leadership and warmth of Liz Jewell as she moves on to other endeavors, but a search committee has assiduously sought her replacement. A new director will be in place in the next couple of weeks, a new luncheon and a bowling league are planned for spring, and the COA is working to secure bus service to Boston for medical needs. Jewell leaves a strong and dynamic organization that continues to support and improve services to Carlisle's older population.
Funding and volunteers save seniors money
Sustaining all these activities and services might appear expensive, but Peggy Wang asserts that operating costs are not shifted to the backs of senior citizens. "Costs are deliberately kept low. The state of Massachusetts does very well by its seniors as well." Our COA is funded not only by a federal grant and the state Office of Elder Affairs, but also by a variety of local and regional services. Meals on Wheels, for example, cost $1.50 per meal. Carlisle organizations like the Friends of the Council on Aging, the Cultural Council and Friends of Gleason Public Library provide funds to sponsor or share the costs of programming, trips, and other services, so that seniors can participate free or at reduced rates.
An army of about 30 volunteers of all ages executes the plans and programs. Many, says Wang, "stick around to become involved with the board of directors." She started with the COA by serving Meals on Wheels and found the group to be "very giving, and genuinely concerned about the welfare of the senior population. This is a town where neighbors look out for neighbors." One ongoing problem, she notes, is attracting seniors who have not yet used COA services: "There are more seniors out there and we want them to become involved. There are lots of people in Carlisle who want to meet them and share their lives."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito