Newton at Home is building a community within a community

0
121

By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor

2-4 Nick Kaufman and Maureen Grannan, executive director of Newton at Home

Newton – Five years ago, Nick Kaufman’s life changed in a moment, when he suffered a significant stroke.  Afterwards, he and his wife Peggy—in their beloved Newtonville home—struggled to recover both his physical and emotional strength. All that changed in another moment, when Peggy contacted Maureen Grannan, the executive director of Newton at Home (NAH).

Now every week, Martha Golub, a former member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, spends time singing with Kaufman. Herb Plovnick, a retired physician, stops by to paint watercolors with him. At one point, Cathy Paris, a bird expert, sat with Kaufman and his wife on their front stoop and identified birds. Golub, Plovnick and Paris are volunteers from NAH.

Since 2011, NAH, a nonprofit, has helped Newton residents over 60 remain in their homes. Grannan explained, “About 16 years ago in Beacon Hill, a bunch of people who were growing older decided that they didn’t like the options of assisted living, nursing homes, or living with their children. They started a grassroot movement to form a village where neighbors help neighbors. Now, there are about 350 villages in the U.S., with another 200 in development.”

The village of the NAH has about 125 volunteers, and 200 members whose average age is about 81. Individual members pay $725 and households with two or more members pay $850 per year. There are options for memberships that are six-months, “breakaway” for those who leave Newton for three consecutive months, and reduced-price for those of limited means. In addition to membership fees, the nonprofit is funded through donations and grants.

Most volunteers are active.

“Some volunteer once a month, but many do several times a week. We provide rides, visits, and many other areas of support,” said Grannan.

Nick Kaufman with one of his water color paintings

There are social programs, including trips, lunch gatherings, a memoir writing class, and a knitting club.

NAH also runs a Winter Buddy program.

“In the event there’s a storm coming, we contact our members to make sure that their phone is charged, they have enough meds, milk, cheese and bread. If they don’t have someone to snow plow or shovel, we make arrangements with a company that charges a discounted rate,” said Grannan.

When someone calls NAH, like Peggy, the first thing Grannan does is a house visit.

“I do a safety check and I bring my list of services,” she said.

At the Kaufmans, NAH initially provided some handyman work, computer help, and friendly visits.

“Since then, the Kaufmans have requested some very unusual and wonderful things,” said Grannan.

The Kaufmans have come a long way since that first visit with Grannan.

They have added outside and inside lifts for Kaufman’s wheelchair. Kaufman, a former filmmaker, said that the third floor of the house used to house his staff and studio. That’s been changed. He’s is working hard to walk again. He speech is strong and clear.

Every fall, Newton at Home does a yard cleanup for the Kaufmans and other members. They bring in many extra outside volunteers.

“We collaborate with Food to Your Table, which collects leftover produce at the end of the farmers’ market in Newton. We create shopping bags filled with vegetables and bring them to our members,” said Grannan.

Creativity is clearly a big part of Grannan’s job.

“I met a new member at his home who had a booming voice. It turned out that he was a former television anchor. A few days later he came to my office and said that he wanted to volunteer. He had some mobility issues,” she said.

“Around the same time, I had an elderly member who asked if someone would check in on her. I realized that they would be a perfect fit. For 4-1/2 years, he called her every morning. If he could not reach her, he called me. She called me if he didn’t call her. They become very close until she died at 94.”

Grannan summed up the meaning of NAH: “We deal with social isolation, which is rampant in this population. We are building a community within a community. Kaufman has met all kinds of people who he would never have met. He gets out and he gets our services.”

“You have made leaps and bounds,” she remarked to Kaufman.

With emotion, he responded, “I had to work very hard.”

Indeed, he has.

For more information about NAH, visit, www.newtonathome.org.