‘Unfailingly trustworthy’: Amherst Neighbors experiences rapid growth in pandemic while supporting older adults 

  • Amherst Neighbors volunteers Rich Rubin, in mask, and Larry Steinhauser. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Amherst Neighbors volunteers Caroline Lederman, standing at left, and Sue Lowery. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Gazette 
Published: 10/19/2021 7:13:22 PM

AMHERST — When Ava Fradkin faced significant complications from hip surgery last April, it was Amherst Neighbors that reached out to her and offered to help with household care. 

Twice during Fradkin’s recovery, volunteers from the organization came to her house to help with weeding, mulching, and pruning to keep her garden in shape.

“It’s such a wonderful resource,” she said. “For people who are involved, it has a huge impact.” 

Amherst Neighbors, a volunteer-based nonprofit that connects older adults with community resources, launched softly during the COVID-19 pandemic but has since blossomed to include more than 200 members. 

Elizabeth Welsh of Amherst Neighbors said the organization accepts requests from its members for any service that would fall under “neighbors helping neighbors.” Of the roughly 100 volunteer requests completed since last April, services include gardening, transportation, household organizing, odd jobs, and friendly visits. 

As a member for two months, Karen Lavender has received help on three occasions. “These have been kind and lovely people,” she said of the volunteers who provided her with transportation and a small home repair. 

“They have unfailingly been trustworthy,” Lavender said, noting that the “people for rides were exactly on time” and she felt comfortable inviting a volunteer into her home to help her. 

Linda Terry, the clerk for Amherst Neighbors, said the initial group of founders started planning the organization back in 2018. By the time the pandemic hit, Amherst Neighbors was already preparing to launch in April 2020. 

Terry said the organization is needed now more than ever, as pandemic-related struggles have led to a “surge in building connections and helping each other.” 

Amherst Neighbors, originally inspired by the similar Northampton Neighbors, tries to “reach as far and wide into the older adult community as possible,” Terry said.

Part of the group’s mission is to work against the stigma that old age is solely characterized by decline. Terry said that “there’s a lot of wisdom and contribution” to communities from older adults.

When Amherst Neighbors began in April 2020, the pandemic made in-person community building impossible. Terry said the solution was to introduce a series of online programs on a range of topics, including COVID-19 management, and health, race and community issues. 

Additionally, Amherst Neighbors manages interest groups on topics including writing, reading, and gardening. The idea was to “bring people together who hadn’t been connected before,” Terry said. 

Only this past April did the team of roughly 20 volunteers at Amherst Neighbors start offering in-person services for older adults. 

One volunteer is Abbey Coren, a recently retired physical therapist. About once a week, Coren does a “welcome visit” for new members requesting service. Such visits consist of discussing which kinds of services are needed and getting to know the person before volunteers show up. 

In addition to a small grant from Florence Bank, the group is operating largely on donations, Terry said. The money covers the cost of equipment, running events, and a part-time staff person who was hired last Monday to meet the increased demand for volunteer services. 

On Sunday, Oct. 31, Amherst Neighbors will host a virtual event from 1 to 3:30 p.m. titled “Aging in Community: What It Takes.” It will feature music from the Amherst Area Gospel Choir as well as speakers Pat Romney, state Sen. Jo Comerford, and state Rep. Mindy Domb. 

Terry said both lawmakers have “been behind us since the beginning” and “believe in support for older adults.”

More information on this event, requesting services, and volunteering can be found on the Amherst Neighbors’ website at www.amherstneighbors.org/.


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