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Columnists Leigh Bailey and Katharine Baker: Northampton Neighbors an active Village

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Monday, January 08, 2018

We were delighted to read the Gazette’s editorial Jan. 4 supporting aging in place initiatives in our region, but surprised to find no mention of Northampton Neighbors, a Village already serving the Northampton area and the first to operate in western Massachusetts.

With over 300 members and 40 trained volunteers, Northampton Neighbors is now providing a range of programs and services to help people remain in their homes and stay engaged in the community as they age. We also provide a list of member-recommended professional services to members, some of which offer discounts.

Linda Desmond, director of the Senior Center, serves on our board and has helped provide space at the center for our half-time administrator to coordinate our day-to-day operations. In addition to our relationship with the Senior Center, we have received significant support from Mayor David Narkewicz, members of the City Council and ward organizations, and we are developing a number of community outreach programs with partners such as the Hampshire Regional YMCA, the Cancer Connection, the VNA, the Northampton Survival Center, Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Highland Valley Elder Services.

As the Gazette editorial pointed out, the Village to Village Network model is sustained by its volunteers. Our members provide transportation, friendly visits, minor home repairs, and a host of other services such as chopping wood, delivering a Christmas tree or help carrying groceries.

In the short time we have been operating, members have responded with enthusiasm: “The volunteers have saved my life; they are an answer to my prayers. When Serio’s (Market) closed, I couldn’t get my groceries delivered anymore, but my NN volunteer now regularly takes me to the grocery store.”

Another member said she loves helping people with their tech needs, computers iPhones, iPads, and so on. “I love meeting new people; they are endlessly fascinating.”

And from another member: “I like to do what I can. Some day, if the tables turn, I might need help too. I appreciate the way NN fosters a sense of community.”

Unlike most Villages around the country, Northampton Neighbors membership is free. We want to make sure that anyone 55 and over is eligible for services and we have made a special effort to identify and reach out to older people in our community who may be more frail, isolated, and in need of services. Not charging a membership fee challenges us to find other sources of funding and support.

To date we have received generous donations from Patrick Goggins of Goggins Real Estate, the River Valley Co-op, Florence Savings Bank, and Easthampton Savings Bank. We also participated in the Community Foundation’s Valley Gives fundraiser in May 2017, and will do so again this year.

In addition, we have received generous gifts from individual donors who support our mission. We are also hoping to encourage members who can afford it to become “sustainers,” committing to regular gifts that will ensure that we can stay afloat over the long term. That way we can continue to offer the Village services to everyone at no cost.

The Gazette has been generous in both its support and coverage of Northampton Neighbors. Last spring, its Health section featured an article about us by reporter Lisa Spear that generated great interest. More recently, Gazette Publisher Michael Rifanburg, invited us to participate in the newspaper’s Active Aging Expo at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and present two workshops on the national Village Movement.

We were pleased to read about other communities in western Massachusetts that are working to create Villages (some of whom reached out to learn from us as we launched Northampton Neighbors).

The Gazette did well to highlight this growing movement. We look forward to reading more about how seniors are living engaged active lives in the Valley.

Leigh Bailey and Katharine Baker, both of Northampton, are president and vice president, respectively of Northampton Neighbors Inc. Further information is available online at www.northamptonneighbors.org or by emailing info@northamptonneighbors.org.