Shared from the 10/18/2019 The Daily Gazette eEdition

Residents advocate for helping-hands program

‘Village movement’ seen as way to keep seniors in homes longer


Yvette Gebell, left, and Mary Delory have plans to put together a “village” program to help older seniors.


NISKAYUNA — It’s an old-fashioned idea: neighbors helping senior neighbors.

Mary Delory and Yvette Gebell believe the concept will work in Niskayuna. They are promoting the “village movement” as a way to ensure town senior residents stay in their homes longer: They hope people will join the Niskayuna Neighbors’ Network.

Volunteers will be part of the network, which is currently under discussion. To join the program and receive benefits, people must be over 60 years of age.

“There are many people who need services in order to remain in their homes, such as some transportation services,” said Delory, the group’s president. “There are some now, but maybe not every day of the week, maybe not evenings for social events.

“There might be some small, minor household repair things that need to be done that people aren’t capable of doing on their own anymore,” Delory added. “And there’s a great need for socialization, and for really kind of looking at how isolated some people can become when they’re more housebound and not as actively involved in the community.”

The network will be discussed further at an informational meeting scheduled for Oct. 29 at the Niskayuna branch of the Schenectady County Library, 2400 Nott St. The session, open to the public, will begin at 6:30 and run until 7:30 p.m.

Delory and Gebell got the idea for a Niskayuna “village” last November, when they attended a meeting of the Albany Guardian Society.

The society, founded in 1852, has always been dedicated to helping seniors. One of the society programs details the “village movement,” which brings communities membership-driven, grassroots, nonprofit groups run by volunteers (paid staffers are also options) who coordinate access to services that including transportation, home repairs and social events.

“Each community that has a village, that community decides how it’s going to be run, what services are going to be provided and how they’re going to be delivered,” said Gebell, the group’s vice president. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor, and we don’t duplicate any services that are already being provided in the community, but we will add to.

“We will help facilitate people learning about programs that are in the community,” Gebell added.

Umbrella of the Capital District is a similar, not-for-profit program, helping with home repairs and keeping seniors in their homes. But people who visit homes to make repairs are paid $15 an hour; it’s a way for seniors to secure low-cost help, but also a way for retired, skilled people to supplement their incomes.

Ron Byrne, Umbrella’s founder and executive director, welcomes other groups that assists seniors.

“What they’re [Niskayuna] trying to do, I think, is a really valuable thing,” he said. “There’s no way we provide the answer for more than a small percentage of the people who need help. The fact that there’s more people who want to get involved and help a senior age in place, I’m all for it. Whatever they can do helps. Umbrella is teeny and the need is huge, really.”

Delory and Gebell said a few steps must be taken before the Niskayuna Neighbors’ Network can begin visiting the elderly and helping out with jobs such as changing light bulbs, grocery shopping, shoveling snow and cleaning out the garage.

A steering committee and four-member board are both in place. With the complete board — Jenny Overeynder is secretary and Diane O’Donnell is treasurer — “We can apply for a grant to the Albany Guardian Society,” Delory said. “That will allow us the money to incorporate as a 501(c)(3).”

Such groups are exempt from federal income tax. “Once we’re incorporated,” Delory continued, “we have bylaws and can actually look to other foundations for money, and get going.”

The 14-member steering committee includes Lisa Weber, a Niskayuna councilwoman who chairs the Town Board’s community programs committee, which includes a senior advisory committee; and town residents Connie Young and Andy Foster.

“As a town, we’re strong in providing recreational opportunities at our senior center and trips and exercise classes,” Weber said, “but there are things we just can’t provide. We have a senior bus that provides transportation to medical appointments a couple days a a week, but we can’t go out of the area and we can’t provide transportation in the evenings.

“We don’t provide in-home companionship,” Weber added. “There are gaps that an organization like this can really be so essential in helping to fill and really be a wonderful addition to our town.”

“Village” networks are currently operating in Clifton Park and Bethlehem.

“The towns and localities that have been most successful in meeting the needs of seniors have partnered with nonprofit organizations to do so,” Weber said. “That’s why this is so important.”

Foster sees a genuine need for a neighbors’ network in the town. At 86, the McClellan Street resident said he is still healthy. “But if I have to change a light bulb in the ceiling, I’m not going up the ladder,” he said.

“I am an Umbrella member,” Foster added, “and it’s because of them I am still in my home.”

Foster also said his neighborhood is in transition. There are some couples, he said, but several people who are elderly and live alone. One man is 96 and needs around-the-clock care. Foster also has heard stories of people who move — and those who choose not to move.

Close relatives who are both single and elderly, he said, don’t want to consolidate into one house. Neither person wants to leave his or her home.

“As long as I can drive, we’re OK,” Foster said. “But if for some reason I couldn’t drive, we’re in trouble because it’s a mile to the co-op [food market], it’s about a mile to the doctor, the hospital. We’re about a mile from everything.”

Young sees the network as more than just an opportunity to perform good deeds. She believes good citizenship is part of the deal.

“I think it’s a wonderful time for us all to get to know each other as a town,” she said. “It makes the community more alive.

“It saves money, too,” Young added. “I have friends who can’t change light bulbs or when the smoke detector goes off, the fire company has to take care of the smoke detector. If she was part of the group, she would call somebody up and somebody would take care of it in two seconds.”

Network — and “village movement” proponents — stressed that social aspects are important for people who both provide and receive the services. The senior who needs light home repairs receives a visit; the handyman or handywoman volunteer, if retired, has a purpose — a reason for the day.

A membership fee would have to be part of the program, as organizers would have to pay for expenses such as background checks for volunteers and insurance.

Both Delory and Gebell say they are hoping for more interest from town residents, and add that they are looking for more steering committee participants.

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at

‘There are many people who need services in order to remain in their homes, such as some transportation services. … There might be some small, minor household repair things that need to be done that people aren’t capable of doing on their own anymore
President, niskayuna neighbors’ network

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