Editorial: Monday mix on Northampton Neighbors; Ralmon Black; art educator

  • Leigh Bailey is president of Northampton Neighbors that provides volunteers to seniors who need assistance with chores and tasks such as rides to appointments. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Northampton seniors are finding the city more neighborly since a nonprofit virtual retirement village started in November, providing volunteers to assist with chores and tasks such as rides to appointments.

The goal of Northampton Neighbors is to help people age 55 and older stay in their homes and remain independent and engaged in the community. Like similar organizations across the country, it is affiliated with the Village to Village Network, based in St. Louis.

Zane Kotker has experienced the service from both sides. After she learned about Northampton Neighbors, Zotker asked for help when she had trouble logging on to her doctor’s online patient portal.

A volunteer came to her house and helped her figure out how to access the website. Then, Zotker decided to become a volunteer and now offers rides. “It’s terrific. It’s a solid idea,” she says. “… I live alone and I need to feel that there is some kind of community out there.”

The Northampton group has its roots in a book club discussion of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande. Leigh Bailey was among those who read that book, which includes a mention of the virtual retirement village movement.

Bailey, the president of Northampton Neighbors, was one of nine volunteers who worked for two years to get it started. It now has 350 members and more than 50 volunteers who provide services such as driving people to medical appointments or grocery stores, walking dogs and chopping wood. More than 100 requests have been filled, Bailey says.

People join by completing an online form. Volunteers fill out an online application, undergo a background check and are trained for an hour.

Unlike most other virtual retirement networks, Northampton Neighbors does not charge a membership fee. Instead it has raised $25,000, and continues to seek donations toward an annual goal of $34,000, Bailey says. Most of that money is used to pay a part-time administrator, Adele Paquin, who works in office space donated by the Northampton Senior Center at 67 Conz St.

The success is a testament to Bailey and many others who are willing to give their time to help a neighbor in need.

More information about Northampton Neighbors is available online at www. northamptonneighbors.org.

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Williamsburg lost its preeminent local historian and unofficial greeter when 78-year-old Ralmon Black died March 5 at Linda Manor Extended Care Facility in Leeds.

“Ralmon knew more about the history of Williamsburg than anyone else alive, and he shared it with unfailing generosity with anyone and everyone who came along,” says his good friend Eric Weber. The two worked together on the Williamsburg Historical Society.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Black set out to travel the world. His adventures took him to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

But it was Williamsburg he truly loved, and Black returned home to raise three sons and a daughter with his wife Gloria.

The whole town was Black’s extended family. He helped answer people’s genealogical questions and frequently visited new residents and introduced them to Williamsburg, where his family goes back at least four generations.

“He wanted to make sure everybody knew how wonderful Williamsburg is and to make everyone feel welcome,” says Town Administrator Charlene Nardi. “That says a lot about him as a man.”

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Congratulations to Amherst Regional Middle School Principal Patty Bode, who is the 2018 Massachusetts art educator of the year. She will receive the award during the National Art Education Association’s national convention in Seattle from March 22 to 24.

“It means a lot to me because I’m being recognized by my peers in the field,” Bode says. “And a lot of those peers are my former graduate students.”

Bode has an impressive resume as an art educator at Wildwood Elementary School and the middle school, as well as in higher education at Tufts University, Ohio State University and the University of Florida.

Her influence is visible at the middle school where seventh-graders recently completed a nearly 130-foot-long mural of the Connecticut River from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound. Its 70 panels are displayed in one of the school’s halls.

The recognition of Bode’s creative talent and passion for teaching is well deserved.