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Ashland At Home, shut down by pandemic, explores reboot

In addition to matching volunteers with members' needs, Ashland At Home also sponsored workshops and organized social activities. At a daylight savings time party, above from left are Jeanette Larson, Valentine Jones, Nancy Anderson, and Stan Druben, Jones' husband. Photo by David Florian.
Gordon Stanford and Nancy Menken confer on a home safety issue as part of Ashland At Home's mission to help seniors age in place. Photo by David Florian.
Goal to help area seniors age in place

For more than nine years, Ashland At Home had been developing and offering services and activities to help seniors age in place. That was before COVID-19.

On Nov. 1 of last year, AAH was forced to close its office and discontinue services. But now that the pandemic and restrictions seem to have eased, supporters and some former board members are hoping to reactivate the nonprofit organization.

It won’t be a slam dunk. Successful reactivation will depend on interested parties coming together to make the reboot happen.

A discussion about reactivating AAH will be held from 10 a.m. to noon July 21 in the meeting room at Pony Espresso in Ashland, 175 Lithia Way. It will be the second meeting for a core group exploring options.

People interested in attending are invited to email former executive director and volunteer Katharine Danner, who is helping lead the effort. You can reach her at info@ashlandathome.org.

“We know that aging in place is a fabulous idea,” Danner said. “There is certainly a need in the community.”

There are 300 organizations similar to AAH around the country, part of the Village Movement originating in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. It spawned a Village-to-Village network for sharing ideas and resources.

“If we can get five to six people to step up and help get the ball rolling, I’m confident AAH will thrive again,” Danner said.

As COVID raged, assistance that required close contact had to be curtailed. At its height, AAH had about 70 members and 80 volunteers, with service expanded to Talent. By April of 2020, the numbers had dropped to about 50-50, and they kept declining during the year.

The organization worked hard to gain its 501(c)(3) designation and hopes to preserve it. Meeting organizers Danner and former board member David Florian are hopeful.

There are three possibilities. They hope there will be enough interest from those involved in the exploratory meetings to reactivate the board and the organization. Plan B would be to find another group or organization willing to take the ball and run with it.

“We could transfer our 501(c)(3) to them as long it occurs before the end of the year,” Florian said. If another group has its own 501(c)(3), AAH could let its certification lapse.

The third option is to allow AAH to fade into history.

AAH’s target group includes seniors who do not qualify for public assistance, yet do not have the resources for long-term care.

“That’s half the aging population,” Danner said.

Members pay an annual fee to the organization, and volunteers offer their services free of charge. Typical services include meal delivery, transportation to appointments, and home repair. Or they might be as simple as changing a high light bulb or taking the trash can to the curb. AAH also sponsored workshops and organized social activities.

One of AAH’s goals has always been to encourage those who need help to ask for it.

“We tell seniors, ‘You know how meaningful it is to help others. Now go ahead and ask,’” Danner said. “Sometimes having nobody to help with a simple service can send someone to assisted living.”

During the pandemic, the city of Ashland launched a Neighbor-to-Neighbor program to try to fill the need, but it lasted only a few months. “The city just wasn’t set up for one-on-one services,” Florian said.

“We’ve never had any trouble getting volunteers,” Danner said. “We give them an orientation and do not require a given number of volunteer hours.”

However, many volunteers, while happy to provide services, do not have the interest or skills to guide the organization.

“We’re ready for an infusion of new blood,” Danner said, “people with organizational skills, marketing know-how, and a passion for the mission.”

AAH served as a clearinghouse, matching members’ needs with available volunteers. Sometimes, if the job was too complex, members were referred to recommended commercial vendors.

“When we started, we had lots of couples as members,” Danner said. “Now there are more single women. We took a survey, and 90% of our former members told us, when the pandemic is over, count them in.”

Lots of retirees move to Ashland in good health, but without their established circles of support.

“Then when their health begins to decline, some need an organization like AAH,” Danner said.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.