So many people came to the launch of Aging in Place in White Plains—a new volunteer organization designed to help seniors stay in their homes as long as possible—that a long line at the parking lot pay station underneath the library made several attendees late.
Upstairs in the meeting room, Aging in Place President Paul Schwarz outlined the goals of the new chapter—which currently consists of: a cell phone, a PO Box, an email address, a website and a bank account, along with a handful of volunteers and members.
To help seniors remain in their homes, the grassroots group plans to provide services such as: essential transportation to doctors’ appointments and shopping trips; perform light household chores; make friendly visits and phone calls; sponsor cultural and social programs; compile a vetted directory of community resources from government programs to contractor information; and offer assistance with technological gadgets, like computers and audio visual equipment.
There are around 50 similar organizations around the country, according to Lois Steinberg, president of the Pleasantville-based Center for Aging in Place (CAP), an umbrella organization founded in 2006.
“This is part of a national movement that’s really a middle class phenomenon,” said Steinberg. “People are shocked when they learn they’re not eligible for County Services; they are for people eligible for Medicaid. People are just as shocked when they find out about all the services Medicare does not pay for.”
In Westchester County, about 15 percent of residents are over 65. CAP oversees 10 local chapters in Westchester—the first in the county was formed in Bronxville. So far, CAP serves 685 members, but the organizers expect to have over 1,000 once word spreads about the White Plains and Rye organizations.
Drawing on numbers in 2010, there were 22,000 volunteer hours spent organizing and operating Aging in Place groups and 4,800 volunteer hours spent by members helping other members.
So far, the White Plains group has attracted 50 members who have paid annual dues of $100 for individuals and $150 for couples.
In nearby Rye, a new chapter is also forming with the help of a $100,000 grant that will provide an office and director, something the White Plains chapter would like to have some day.
For now, the White Plains group will have to marshal the energy provided by the 200 people who showed up at the launch party, many of whom joined with the anticipation that they will one day require the group’s services.
“Something like changing a light bulb sounds simple,” said Schwarz. “But for some people, getting up on a stool for a particular fixture can be dangerous and for that, you’re not going to call an electrician.”
Judy Meyer Morse, 82, who helped spearhead the White Plains group three years ago with her husband, Ted Morse, 90, first heard about a similar program in Boston and thought it would be a good idea to bring it closer to home.
“I got into it for myself,” she said. “I don’t need the help now, but if something were to happen to my husband, I love White Plains and would like to stay as long as I can. As long as I’m healthy, of course.”
The couple lives in an apartment. Meyer Morse’s children reside in Boston, Philadelphia and Tappan, NY. She would consider moving into one of the retirement communities that are cropping up all over the county, but chafes at the cost.
“My kids say, ‘oh, we’ll move to Florida,’ but I don’t want to have to go somewhere just because my children are going there,” she said. “They have their lives, and I have mine.”
At the launch party for the White Plains group, Mayor Tom Roach mayor explained that the volunteer organization will offer services that are not publicly available.
“If someone has difficulty getting a roofer, for example, the City is not going to help with that,” he said. “But we understand that elderly people have special needs. People who live here appreciate the city’s diversity, but that also means a diversity of age groups. The elderly bring a flavor and a color to the city that is so essential, and a program like Aging in Place is going to make us a greater city.”
Although no one contacted the program for any services on its first day of operation, At Home on the Sound, which operates in the Larchmont-Mamaroneck area, has provided a robust slate of services for its members.
Ann Pucci, 90, has lived in the same house in Mamaroneck for the last 50 years. Her son lives in upstate New York and her grandson has a family in New Rochelle, but he can’t leave his job during business hours to take her to the dentist. He helps out on weekends and after business hours, but since joining At Home on the Sound a year ago, she feels more independent.
She attends yoga classes and educational events, including a talk about the work of author James Joyce.
“I find that it’s very helpful,” she said. “I get to meet people, which I wouldn’t be able to do sitting home alone all the time.”
Recently, a volunteer came by the take her air conditioner out of the window. For her, At Home on the Sound is a main reason why she can stay in her home.
“I don’t even want to think about the alternative,” she said. “I’m very happy I joined. My family will come over on the weekend or during the week when they can, but I can’t ask them to stop by for every little thing. I try to do things myself, but if there’s something I can’t do, it’s nice to know that I can get it taken care of by a friendly person.”
Correction: Judy Meyer Morse and Ted Morse's names were spelled incorrectly in a previous verision of this story.