By Karen Hery
There is a quiet revolution going on in SE Portland, championed by a wide range of volunteers, paying it forward in anticipation of their own senior years.
JoAnn Herrigel, chair of the governing counsel of Eastside Village PDX, remembers the day when years of talk and planning turned into action, all to help seniors stay in their homes longer.
“A group of us working to organize better solutions for seniors kept talking about opening an office next year . . . for several years. I was the one to say, if we keep saying we are going to do this we should do it.”
Her gumption put her at the helm of Eastside Village PDX and at the center of a growing passion here for creating supportive, social villages around seniors. More residents east of the river are seeking ways to age in place without feeling isolated and alone, especially when they are no longer able drive or do home maintenance tasks easily or at all.
A creative collection of social groups, volunteer-driven non-profits and even a senior-designed and funded communal condominium project called PDX Commons have come into being in the last few years just in time for the baby boomer bubble that is increasing the need for senior services.
Eastside Village PDX, officially in service to seniors since October 2015, takes a holistic approach to connecting aging-in-place Portlanders with a whole village of helpful neighbors.
Seniors join as annual members, many for the wide variety of social events Eastside Village PDX coordinates. No request for help from another village member or village volunteer is too small or too odd to be considered.
Not all requests are met but many are, including repainting a porch or helping to stage a garage sale for a grateful senior who couldn’t lift the many boxes of things she wanted to move.
The number one request Eastside Village PDX gets from its members is for rides to doctor appointments and events.
Consumer Reports ran a feature article last month about seniors and driving noting that the average American male outlives his ability to drive by six years; the average American female, by 10 years.
Navigating public transportation and volunteer ride services, especially after years of car travel, overwhelms many seniors just at the very time it would be best for daily life to get simpler. Ride Connection, a non-profit founded in 1988 still going strong all around Portland, acts as a clearinghouse of transportation options.
One call to Ride Connection connects seniors and their families to special travel training on how to use public transportation, fare relief, non-emergency medical transportation and neighborhood shuttles driven by volunteers.
Proposed budget cuts at the national level are threatening many programs. Thankfully, Meals on Wheels People, the local non-profit that makes sure housebound seniors in SE Portland have daily, well-prepared meals, is in a better position to serve qualifying seniors in Portland than many of the daily meals on wheels programs around the country.
When the Trump administration made major budget cut announcements in mid-May, news stories spread about how Meals on Wheels to seniors would be cut. According to Julie Piper Finley, Meals on Wheels People marketing director, money funding this service in Multnomah County doesn’t come from the threatened community block grants that fund similar services in smaller communities.
Austin, a similar sized city to Portland, often places seniors who request home-delivered meals on a waiting list. In 47 years, Meals on Wheels People here in Portland has not had to turn away any Portland seniors who requested home meal delivery.
There may be cuts to health and human services monies in the final federal budget but Finley is confident that through funds made available at the state and federal level and through some local fundraising as well, all seniors in need of meal delivery will be fed.
Hundreds of volunteers each day help keep costs down for many vital services for seniors. Just as regular volunteers start taking extended breaks for summer vacations, teachers and students, off for the summer, step in to take their place.
Some volunteers enjoy daily tasks like driving meals to seniors and seniors to meals or setting tables and serving food at senior centers. Others pick up once a week or once a month shifts that help to fill in the gaps.
Outings and events for seniors, hosted by Eastside Village PDX, Ride Connections and at Meals on Wheels Belmont Center, do many things to boost the health and vitality of seniors.
“Seniors make friends, which is really important, especially after a spouse has died,” explains Herrigel who lists an impressive variety of social meet-ups on the Eastside Village PDX website, which are well-attended by seniors and the village’s volunteers of all ages.
Anyone curious about joining Eastside Village PDX, to volunteer or to learn more, see eastsidevillage.org.
They host a monthly coffee gathering and meeting for seniors and volunteers, this month on Friday, July 7, 9:30 – 10:30 am at Taborspace Coffeehouse at 5441 SE Belmont St.
Drivers are always needed at Meals on Wheels People. Information about volunteering and meal delivery at mealsonwheelspeople.org.
Because of the large number of meals they prepare each day, most of the food is purchased rather than donated. Donations of fresh, homegrown produce can be dropped off to be incorporated into salads and desserts at their Belmont Senior Center at 46th and Belmont.
Ride Connection has volunteer opportunities for drivers and office support outlined at rideconnection.org/get-involved/volunteer. Seniors can request a ride either by phone: 503.226.0700 or through an online form for returning customers.
Being a senior in inner SE has always had its built in perks with walking access to parks and essential services. Now, thanks to growing service communities and a volunteer village of neighborly support, aging in place is getting easier and easier as more of us enter into our golden years.