There’s No Place Like Home
Helping Seniors “Age in Place”
Kay Chann (in pink) leads a game of mah-jong at the Senior Center with Stay at Home in Wilton members Winkie Chesley, Verna Barrett, and Vicki Raymond.
Photos by Scott Mullin
Often little things can make a big difference in the world of a senior. Who will help me turn my mattress? How can I find a reliable plumber who isn’t too expensive? Can someone drive me to the eye doctor? Now in its fifth year, Stay at Home in Wilton is a non-profit organization that enables seniors to remain in their own homes by providing transportation or household assistance when needed, and referrals to trustworthy home service suppliers.
These are the kinds of simple but crucial needs that Stay At Home fulfills, while also providing opportunities for socializing at special events, at concerts, or on trips that bring new friendships.
The way it began was serendipitous. In 2008 Phil Richards, his wife Anne, along with Ken Dartley introduced the idea of Stay At Home in Wilton to a small group at the library. The response was enthusiastic. As Phil Richards explains, “I was on the board of Nursing and Home Care and learned about the Village to Village Network that was developing across the country to allow seniors to ‘age in place’ by remaining at home.”
Often the first person a future member contacts is Janet Johnson, the group’s Coordination Director, who schedules services for members. There is an active Board of Directors and an Advisory Board. When there’s assurance that living at home will be comfortable and that the member will become part of a secure network of people, the huge upheaval created by moving away from one’s home becomes unnecessary.
The membership is varied, and many current volunteers hope to transition into future members. Take Winkie Chesley, the Sexton for Ye Olde God’s Acre Cemetery, a bookkeeper for Wilton Social Services, mother of six, and Wilton resident for 45 years.
“I’m a caregiver and natural-born volunteer. I was a volunteer at Hospice for 15 years, and on the ambulance for five years. I thought I could volunteer to do a little driving for Stay at Home and get back into the community. Well, I love it. Stay at Home members are such interesting people. I’m in a group that plays mah jong with Kay Chang who has taught us the game. We’re all devoted to her. I also like the way Coordinator Janet Johnson does things. If there’s a boat trip, she’ll take it first, to make sure it’s okay. Our trip to The Culinary Institute was beautiful. I decided I’ve reached the time of life when I’ll do what I want to do, and I like the feeling that we’re taking care of each other.”
Gordon Nugent, 89, was in public relations for General Electric and Union Carbide, and has lived in Wilton for 56 years. “When I was in grade school, I was taught that there are four necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing, and transportation,” he says. “For me, Stay At Home is essential. I joined when it first started. I’ve had 24 different drivers over the past year and have got to know them all, so it also means new friends. And that’s an added bonus.”
Larry Mauer has lived in Wilton for well over three decades. Formerly the dean of the College of Business at St. John’s University in New York, he has taught Finance in the US, Rome, and Puerto Rico.
“I became a member of Stay at Home because I really believe strongly in the concept of a volunteer organization dedicated to the idea of independent living. I believe Wilton needs Stay at Home. With the baby boomer population aging out, we’re going to need a mechanism to keep people safe and comfortable in their own homes. I don’t need rides but I like being with Stay at Home people. I’ve enjoyed the men’s breakfasts, the potluck suppers. I can envision a time when I might need help with transportation, but right now I like being with people who are experiencing many of the same things I am. There are quite a number of us who’ve lost a spouse after many years of marriage, and being with others who’ve experienced the same sort of loss can be very comforting and helpful. It creates an immediate bond.”
Janet Johnson recalls a member phoning in and saying, “My birthday is tomorrow and I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with.” Stay at Home sent out a group e-mail to the membership, made a few phone calls, and arranged for a cake and juice to be served at the Senior Center. What could have been a lonely birthday turned into a special celebration with 25 people.
Should you join Stay At Home Wilton? Try attending one of the group’s social events, or talk with the volunteers and some of the other members to see if it’s a good fit for you. Perhaps Dorothy Gale was right. There really is no place like home.