A helping hand and a listening ear

  • Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, watches as Judith Fine helps garden as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Judith Fine shows Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, the lily she dug up in Lafleur’s garden as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, and Judith Fine talk about Lafleur’s garden while Fine helps as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, and Judith Fine talk about Lafleur’s garden while Fine helps as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, talks about how much she used to enjoy gardening but now can not do it anymore as Judith Fine helps as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosalyn Cilman talks about how much she enjoys the volunteers who come and visit as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosalyn Cilman talks about how much she enjoys the volunteers who come and visit as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosalyn Cilman makes a point to her son, Bob Cilman, while talking about how much she enjoys the volunteers who come and visit as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosalyn Cilman makes a point to her son, Bob Cilman, while talking about how much she enjoys the volunteers who come and visit as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rosalyn Cilman talks about how much she enjoys the volunteers who come and visit as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carole Lafleur, 85 of Florence, talks about how much she used to enjoy gardening but now can not do it anymore as Judith Fine helps as part of the Northampton Neighbors volunteer program. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2019 1:25:14 PM

On a recent sunny afternoon, Judith Fine reached down into a garden full of daylilies, alyssums and geraniums, and pulled out a few weeds and replanted some flowers ahead of the winter season. Fine, 69, spent half an hour tending to Carole Lafleur’s garden as a volunteer with Northampton Neighbors. 

“Isn’t she such a hard worker?” Lafleur, 85, said of Fine as she clipped flowers and used a small pitchfork to dig up a new hole to replant a flower. “I do the heavy looking-on,” Lafleur said, standing beside the backyard garden she has grown flowers in since 1985 when she moved to Brookside Circle in Florence. 

“It’s my joy,” when Lafleur looks out to her carefully maintained garden from her window, she said. 

Lafleur is one of 800 members of Northampton Neighbors, a community organization with volunteers that offer companionship, rides to appointments and the occasional green thumb — all free of charge to those over the age of 55 in Northampton, Florence and Leeds. By requesting one of over 90 volunteers from Northampton Neighbors by phone, local residents such as Lefleur can have a volunteer’s helping hand or attentive ear. 

“It’s the beauty of staying in your home and that’s why I appreciate it so much,” said Fine about members’ ability to live comfortably in their own home while receiving occasional assistance free of charge. Whether it’s accompanying someone for small talk, going for a short walk or reading aloud to someone, Fine said she has done a variety of activities with Northampton Neighbors. 

Recently, the National Poll on Healthy Aging, a survey run by the University of Michigan, found that about a third of seniors in the United States are lonely. Almost a third of polled seniors said they socialized with friends, family and neighbors once a week or less. Northampton Neighbors is attempting to increase a feeling of companionship among seniors while helping them live independently. 

“Neighborly visits — where a volunteer comes by and there is nothing you need — just to hang out, to talk and feel connected,” has become more common, according to Diane Porcella, Northampton Neighbor’s administrator. 

“The older we get the more invisible we can become, but we are bucking that trend,” Porcella, 55, said. 

For Lafleur, bending over to clip flowers or carrying a bucket full of water just isn’t physically possible anymore, she said. 

“I used to do this all myself. It’s nice to have someone that helps out.” 

At Christopher Heights, 101-year-old Roz Cilman enjoys the occasional visit from a volunteer, mostly to have someone to chat with, she said. 

“It’s very nice to have someone,” Cilman said. “They are very friendly, very nice people.” 

Cilman said she likes hearing about volunteer’s lives and sharing stories of her own. Cilman moved to Christopher Heights after spending the majority of her life in Rochester, New York, and working at the hardware store that her father opened. 

“It’s nice that they are invested in coming to talk with us,” said Cilman, who grew up during the Great Depression and shares stories of that time with volunteers. 

A line of her father’s that she likes to tell people — “I don’t mind paying taxes; I wish I made more money to pay more taxes” — reflects her father’s attitude regarding his appreciation of the United States government and the opportunities he had after immigrating from Lithuania. 

“Jews were chased from one place to another and he came here and opened a store, made a living, and hired people — things he couldn’t have done over there,” Cilman said. 

Marilyn Carey, 70, a volunteer with Northampton Neighbors for the past eight months, has visited Cilman in the past. Carey said she averages about one to two visits a week. 

“I have done everything from helping with gardening to helping people pack to move and I’ve done a lot of what they call friendly visits,” Carey said. “Just stopping in and meeting people for an hour or so.” 

Even when responding to requests for specific services, Carey said that providing a connection with members is an important part of her work. 

“Elderly folks can become isolated if their mobility is impaired or their health prevents them from getting out and engaging in the community,” she said. “Some turn into ongoing contact as regular visits and getting to know people and helping them feel less isolated.”

Northampton Neighbors is a trustworthy organization, Carey said. Volunteers are interviewed and vetted before they can get involved and Carey said that everyone from volunteers to board members is “committed to the mission of the agency.” 

Northampton Neighbors registered as a nonprofit at the end of 2017, and Porcella said that transportation is the number one service the organization provides. With winter coming up, she said she anticipates calls coming in for requests in clearing driveways of snow. 

The organization is part of the Village to Village Networks, a national organization that provides volunteer services. Unlike other villages, Northampton Neighbors does not charge annual dues for members, which can run between $250 to $450 a year. 

Through donations, grants and institutional support, Northampton Neighbors is “funded by our community,” Porcella said. “Our business community has been fantastic and volunteerism is strong.”

Other services Northampton Neighbors provides include delivery of food and goods, changing hard-to-reach smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, changing light bulbs, providing pet care, and technical assistance with phones, emails and televisions. The organization does not provide medical services or service to bed-bound individuals. 

Visit Northamptonneighbors.org for more information about becoming a member or volunteering.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.


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