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Helping people age in place

Allow me to be self-indulgent today. It’s for a good cause.

I begin with a personal story. When I retired from a long career in human service and education, I envisioned lazy days filled with books, a flourishing herbal garden and chatty lunches with women friends. I occasionally have that kind of day, but most of my time is focused on the work of the all-volunteer nonprofit organization my husband and I launched in 2014. We are dedicated to keeping low-income elders safely in their homes and at lessened risk of injury falls.

The table prayer we use in our family gives thanks for “life and health and every good.” And we do, but we also want to “give back.” The idea started small but grew in response to community need. Our fall-risk assessment process “Grandma’s Porch” thrives, but it has more referrals than revenue.

Here’s how it works. A trained team of volunteers goes into a home and evaluates accessibility, trip and environmental hazards. Then one of those volunteers returns with our licensed, bonded handymen to make the recommended improvements. It ranges from repairing a porch railing to providing a shower chair or toilet riser. But it’s mostly about installing grab bars. Our handy guys have put in over 700 grab bars this year alone. Side-story. One grab bar, installed, costs $33. The average injury fall costs $30,000 (CDC 2015).

We have always called our organization “small but mighty,” but the referrals are coming thick and fast with the exploding demographic of elders who want to age in place. Our focus is low-income older adults who not only don’t have funds for a grab bar, but don’t know anyone to install it if they did.

A personal story: We put three grab bars, a shower wand and a shower chair with arms in the home of a lovely 70-year-old woman who was partially paralyzed due to a stroke. Her thankful acknowledgment, “This is the first time I have been able to take a shower without someone watching me in four years.”

Keeping elders independent in their activities of daily living is critical to aging in place. It used to amaze me when people would say they felt so at risk in their bathrooms they had not showered in a year. But I have heard that story too often to be amazed any longer.

So what’s your story? I seldom meet someone who does not have a sobering tale about a parent or neighbor who fell and fractured a hip, a pelvis, a femur. It’s followed by an ER visit, a hospitalization, a rehab center placement — and often the inability to return home. That would be the home that did not have grab bars. These are sad stories.

Two of our best volunteers — bright and forward-thinking nursing students — have set up a crowdsourcing platform for us. It’s called Mightycause and focuses on nonprofit organizations doing good things in the community, such as Grandma’s Porch. I encourage you to go to www.mightycause.com/story/rbtrvgrandmasporch/ and check it out.

Sharon Johnson is executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Email her at www.rbtrv.org.