It’s everywhere. It goes viral. It’s posted on the RF Swap and applauded throughout the Valley. Kindness. Stopping traffic to allow a slow walker to cross, pulling over for a blown-tire assist, opening your vehicle as shelter before the sirens arrive and purchasing the coffee for the carload behind you in the drive-through. Simple acts that positively affect the recipients of your thoughtfulness, while drastically altering a life — yours.
Treat people as you want to be treated. Do unto others. Love your neighbor as yourself. Pay it forward. Slow down and look around. However you choose to articulate this concept, it boils down to neighbors helping neighbors. Not difficult. No (or little) cost. A little bit of time, elbow grease and the desire to make a difference. Imagine a Valley where this is the number-one focus. There would be no shots fired in the City Market parking lot. No bloody fights on the playing fields or outside the five-star restaurants. No dubious distinction of the nation’s highest suicide rates.
Last summer, we witnessed a community come together over a catastrophe. Is that what it takes? Near death, may lose everything, no place to go, no family close-by, no emergency funds, no other options, untenable, hopeless situations? Would it surprise you to know there are neighbors living near you that feel this way every day?
Ask yourself: Who are my neighbors? Other than the parents of kids in your child’s class or sports teams, have you met the person next door, some of whom may have lived in the same house — close to yours — for over 30 years?
Our older population (meaning older than you) in the Valley could use our collective assistance — from time to time — to comfortably and safely continue to age in place (i.e. stay in the homes in which they have been living for much of their adult life).
I am talking the basics here … just surviving. What I have learned is that there is a desire to help, assist and/or jump in with both feet. We often don’t know how. How and why did this become so difficult? In this age of being “PC,” no solicitation, self sufficiency, no whining, fearing rejection or worse, retribution, Titan Games and only the strong survive, we are programmed to believe that even “offering” help is taboo.
We can do better than that. We can create a community where everyone not only lives but thrives! We have chosen the path less traveled, the place of elusive cell signals and astronomical health insurance. We brave snowfall measured in feet, ice dams breaking loose and avalanches 300 years in the making. We pack overnight bags for a three-hour trip on I-70, including blankets, warmers, water and munchies. We are strong and have capacity to share. Let’s push that easy button. Empower people of all ages to lend a helping hand — small or large — to local seniors. From swapping seasonal boxes from their high shelves (an actual request) to installing a temporarily needed wheelchair ramp (another real request), we can be that helping hand. We can encourage intergenerational connections that make a community, well, a community. Sounds simple … but not so fast.
We live in a region (again, our choice) where downtime or free time is full of vertical hikes, skiing, biking, boarding, school plays, walking our furry friends, fundraisers, happy hour and oh-so-many events. The community calendars are full — every day — except, of course, during the off-season. (I remember my first year here, when I wondered who would close — just shut down — for a month??? I learned.) Volunteering is a most-sought-after pastime that includes serving wine and food at a garden party, ushering friends to their seats in a historic theater or under the big top and scoring passes for the viewing stages by checking IDs at the after parties. Volunteers even secure schwag, jackets, tickets and gourmet meals. This is not that kind of volunteering. This is the kind that makes you randomly smile, hug a new friend and remind yourself of the wonderful place you call home.
Chatting with seniors and their caregivers has reinforced my suspicion that there is a huge need in our region that is longing to be filled. A senior who washes her dishes in the bathroom because the kitchen sink is “broken” (clogged), a senior who is stuck in one small room, all day, because there is no path for his wheelchair, an older woman who faints in City Market as she is retrieving her prescription, an older man who is afraid to leave his home as the snow accumulates on his walkway and drive, a veteran who has no visitors as they can’t find a ride to his house, an Old Snowmass resident who has figured out how to order “butter in a can,” as he is out of the designated boundaries for home-delivered meals.
Overflowing gutters, weedy gardens, empty refrigerators and pantries, fallen limbs, peeling paint, foggy windows, burned-out bulbs, rundown batteries in ceiling smoke detectors … and the loneliness, 24/7, where the quiet is just a reminder of what and who is forgotten … a collection of memories that have lost their ability to fill the social isolation of this day, week and another year. These are members of the Mid-Valley community — our neighbors, somebody’s parent, a brother, a sister, a friend — people who deserve to be celebrated. So let’s get at it.
It’s your turn. We talk about connectivity to our rivers, our culture, our mountains and our town. How about making some meaningful connections with the people that made this community what it is today? Members of our neighborhoods, your community, need a helping hand, or two, that will not only solve a particular task, but also create that social connection they so desire and deserve. You may just end up with a new lifelong friend. Can you spare an hour each month? Do you want to? From personal experience, you will get so much more than you give and you will enjoy the ride along the way. Promise.
Mary Kenyon has been working with Pitkin County Senior Services and Eagle County Healthy Aging over the past five years and volunteers in various capacities, small and mid-sized, regularly. Email her your senior matters at firstname.lastname@example.org