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Volunteers are needed throughout Westchester County to provide free rides to older adults, age 60 or more, who reside in Westchester and need help getting to the doctor, shopping mall, hairdresser, the homes of friends and family or a number of other activities that require transportation.

RideConnect, a service administered by Family Services of Westchester (FSW) with support from Westchester County’s Department of Senior Program and Services (DSPS), is an informational, referral and volunteer based transportation program that began in 2010 as a means to provide services to older adults who are no longer driving. The mission of the program is to encourage independence and mobility for seniors by providing exceptional customer service and comprehensive transportation options.

DSPS Commissioner Mae Carpenter said: “Mobility is essential for helping seniors remain independent, stay healthy and be engaged in their community. Not being able to get out can cause many negative side effects and lead to isolation, depression and all sorts of problems.”

To volunteer as a RideConnect driver, individuals must be at least 21 years of age, enjoy working with older adults and have a valid driver’s license. No minimum time commitment is required and volunteers can sign up to drive as little, or as often as their schedule permits.

RideConnect provides hundreds of rides each week and demand for the service continues to increase. Sign up today to help seniors near you get around.

For additional information, to learn more about the program or to get involved as a volunteer, please contact Karen Ganis at (914) 864-0955 or .

Are you 55 or older with chronic conditions? If so, the free Health for Life Program (HeLP) offers you a sensible and enjoyable way to enhance your quality of life by showing you how to manage your chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, pain, depression and diabetes.

HeLP empowers you through a greater understanding of physical activity, healthy eating and stress management. You’ll learn about managing your medications correctly and improving communication with health care providers and family. By practicing decision-making techniques and action plans, you’ll be more confident about taking control of your life.

The program takes place for two-and-a-half hours a week for six weeks at community-based locations such as houses of worship, senior centers, nonprofit organizations and housing developments throughout Westchester.

HeLP follows a model developed at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. It is a nationwide program that has been in existence for more than 20 years, with proven benefits for the participants.

For more information and to learn when HeLP information sessions and workshops will be presented in your area, contact Marikay Capasso at or
(914) 813-6427.

In a trail-blazing initiative, 25 Westchester County volunteers received certificates for completing a new program to help family caregivers make informed decisions to better care for their older or disabled loved ones.

The initiative - the Livable Communities Caregiver Coaching Program (L3C) - was started this year by Commissioner Mae Carpenter of Westchester County’s Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS).

Carpenter said the program was essential because of the rapidly growing number of families who find themselves in caregiver situations and need community support to meet their many challenges and responsibilities. Often, families are thrust into becoming caregivers without warning, perhaps if a spouse has a stroke or suffers an accident, she said. As a result, they often become stressed and overwhelmed. They may not know what to do first and the best places to call for help.

That’s where the Caregiver Coaches come in. They are stabilizing forces and sounding boards. Their training gives them practical information to become more knowledgeable about caregiving issues and concerns. Then, in turn, they can discuss various options with the caregivers. These conversations can empower the caregivers to set priorities and make thought-out decisions.

The pioneering L3C curriculum was developed by DSPS and Fordham University’s Ravazzin Center on Aging in West Harrison with input from an advisory committee of representatives from agencies and organizations that deal with older adults. The graduates – 21 women and four men – received their certificates in a ceremony earlier this month at the Ravazzin Center and are now being matched with family caregivers.

“I feel like we’re on our way,” Carpenter said.  “We’re out of the door in terms of getting supplemental assistance to families who have that major job of being caregivers.”

Irene Gutheil, a professor at Fordham in West Harrison and founding director of its Ravazzin Center on Aging, also said it was very gratifying to have reached this point.

“It’s great to see the fruits of our labors, to see the enthusiasm in the coaches and in the volunteers who taught the classes.” Gutheil said. “They’re ready to go out there and make a difference in people’s lives.”

The program start-up is funded through a grant from the Westchester Public/Private Partnership for Aging Services. The Family Caregiver Alliance says that a variety of innovative programs to help family caregivers – an underserved population - is an emerging trend.

Carpenter said DSPS’ proactive Caregiver Coaching program is the most comprehensive of its kind in the United States. It is part of DSPS’ Livable Communities project, its signature program, which has received national awards.  AARP has indicated it is one of three Livable Community models in the United States.

The curriculum the instructors used to train the volunteers was mostly written from scratch by professionals at the Ravazzin Center and other team members, said Gutheil.  The instructors were also volunteers - such as Jennifer Rabley from the Patton Family Foundation, who said teaching the class was “a healing and enlightening process.”

The curriculum helped the volunteers to understand the aging process and the physical and social changes it can bring as well as how to develop the coaching/caregiver relationship. They also discussed possible scenarios the Caregiver Coaches might encounter in their work and how to resolve them.

The volunteers received the  “Curriculum and Resource Guide” – a companion “textbook,” which  presented information on topics such as how  to make a home safe,  emotions caregivers may feel (such as depression, fatigue, anger and isolation) and why it is so important for caregivers to take care of themselves. It also has listings of telephone numbers and Web sites of local and national agencies and organizations.

While previous caregiver experience is not required to volunteer for the program, it happened that all 25 volunteers in the first class had been caregivers at some point. They volunteered for the program because they recognized the need for such trained individuals.

Anne Darby-Woodard from White Plains, one of the newly minted caregiver coaches, regularly lends a hand to the elderly people who are members of her church in Tuckahoe. Darby-Woodard said that the program is “an answer to a prayer” because it gives her greater understanding of their needs and how to best meet them.

Carpenter said the number of people 85 and older grew more than 24 percent in the past two decides and the population of people 100-plus grew even faster. Currently, one in five Westchester residents -- or 20 percent of the population -- is 60 years or older.  And by 2030, one of four people will be 60 or older.

Caregiver coaches are also needed, Carpenter said, because she has found in recent years that many people are not informed about Westchester’s housing shortage. 

“They say ‘We’ll bring Mom and Dad up from Florida, and they’ll be with us for three or four months until we find an apartment’.  But there are no apartments. So they become caregivers,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter told the graduates that they can use their new knowledge in one-on-one relationships or with groups of people, perhaps at a hospital, senior center or houses of worship.

The goal of the grass-roots, self-empowerment Livable Communities initiative is to benefit people of all ages and enable seniors to continue to live in their homes as they age with dignity, independence and civic involvement.

Caregiver coaches directly help to meet that goal by supporting the people who care for seniors. So Carpenter said that it would be a natural fit for some coaches to work with some of the county’s Livable Community Villages. There currently are 85 villages where “neighbors helping neighbors” is a way of life.

In addition to DSPS, the Ravazzin Center and the Public/Private Partnership, other sponsors are AARP, Visiting Nurse Services in Westchester and the Volunteer Center of United Way of Westchester and Putnam.

Gutheil said that she plans to try to quantify the success of the program after the coaches and caregivers have worked together for three months. For example, she would want to assess what  the coaches have learned from the experience. “We also hope to get funding to evaluate the program from the family caregivers perspective” she said, such as how it has helped them and how they like working with a coach.

DSPS is presently accepting applications for volunteers for its next class. Applicants should have an optimistic outlook and not be judgmental. They work with – not for – the caregivers and are not substitutes for professionals in the field. Nor do they assume caregiver tasks themselves or offer medical or legal advice.

The Caregiver Coaching course meets once a week for three consecutive weeks for a total of 12 hours. Participants must also attend monthly Caregiver Coach Conversations to discuss specific issues, their experiences and concerns. How much time each coach devotes to a family caregiver will vary and most of the contact will be by telephone. Candidates must make a one-year commitment to the program.

For more information, contact DSPS at (914) 813-6441 or .

Thank you for volunteering to take part in our Livable Communities Speakers Bureau.

Your expertise will prove valuable in helping to educate seniors and the general public who live in Westchester County and make a positive difference in their lives. We appreciate your support.

 

"Yes, we care," say officials, residents and supporters.

The county Livable Communities Initiative has just entered its fourth year with reason to celebrate. The initiative is on its way to meeting its major goal: supporting Westchester seniors who want to grow older in their own homes.

The initiative is about little things – like making sure seniors in a specific neighborhood can safely cross a busy street. It’s about big things – like addressing transportation issues that challenge seniors who choose to stop driving. And, it supports family members and neighbors who pitch in to help older people stay in the communities they’ve helped build.

Significantly in these economic times, it’s about doing more with less: The initiative builds on what already exists and encourages grassroots involvement.

The groundwork for this comprehensive Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services’ effort was laid at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging – a conference held every 10 years to set federal policy for seniors. A key conference resolution urged municipalities across the nation to create “Livable Communities” aimed at supporting seniors who chose to “age in place.” The resolution, which subsequently became part of the reauthorized federal Older Americans Act., struck a chord with the Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS), its commissioner, Mae Carpenter and other government officials.

“With the aging of our population and public funds not keeping up with the increasing need for services, a grassroots movement was started to empower citizens to work together to improve their own lives,” said Carpenter, a nationally recognized authority on seniors who is spearheading the initiative. The Westchester Public/Private Partnership was with the initiative from the start, and AARP was a critical partner in helping with its expansion.

“We could not have achieved what we did without their support and the strong support from the county when the initiative was kicked off in June 2006,” added Carpenter.

The issues surrounding this initiative have special urgency because of the rapidly growing number of older people in the county. Today, the 187,000 people over the age of 60 in Westchester make up 20 percent of the population. By 2030, the county Planning Department projects that 25 percent of the population will be 60 or older. Many seniors are vocal that they want to remain in the county – and live independently – as they grow older. For that to happen, seniors’ needs must be met in a variety of areas, such as housing, transportation, public safety and recreation. And to do that, DSPS is building on what is already out there and involving government, nonprofits, houses of worship and neighbors.

“Our ultimate goal is to fill gaps of need using assets and resources that already exist,” Carpenter said. “Older persons want to remain in their homes and communities and Westchester relies upon their contributions.”

As the project began, DSPS shared its plans with the community and strategic partnerships were formed. There were meetings with groups of civic organizations, business leaders, members of the clergy, representatives from academic institutions, consumers and others to ask for their ideas and support. Other input came from AARP, which conducted three “visioning” sessions to help residents set priorities.

The initiative reached its first milestone in 2007 when DSPS set up a network of nine regional Livable Community Connection (LCC) sites headed by a coordinator who works with a regional advisory council and local municipal task forces. Since they began, the LCCs have presented a broad array of programs on topics that range from elder law to fall prevention, health and wellness, personal safety, crime prevention, consumer issues and money management.

The LCCs also became involved in their communities. An early success occurred when the New York State Department of Transportation installed a new traffic light at an  intersection of Tarrytown Road (Route 119) and Manhattan Avenue in Greenburgh that appeared dangerous.

Bishop Dr. Wilbert G. Preston of Christ Temple - Greater International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Greenburgh had noticed that seniors had trouble crossing that intersection to get to the shopping center on the other side of the road to do their marketing.

“There were no walk or yield signs,” Preston said. “It was one area that seemed to have been forgotten.” He contacted a number of people, including the LCC that serves unincorporated Greenburgh and its villages.

As a result, AARP wrote to the state transportation department to request the new signal. Not only did the department install a new traffic light, it also installed poles with countdown signals for seniors to see how many seconds they have to cross the road before the light changes.

Said Preston, “It’s now a much safer crossing for seniors.” AARP was also pleased that the transportation department approved the work and completed it so quickly, said Will Stoner, associate state director of AARP-New York.

Wanting to build on this success, about 140 LCC volunteers sporting bright red T-shirts took a “walkability” survey with AARP to evaluate 12 busy intersections in eight Westchester municipalities. Armed with stopwatches, tape measures and clip boards, they assessed 60 items at each intersection, such as whether it needs a traffic signal, if roads with two or more lanes have a median strip and if the sidewalks have curb cuts for individuals who use wheelchairs.

The survey findings were forwarded to the LCCs, which were asked to review and share them with their regional councils.

Public safety is a hallmark of a Livable Community, notes Carpenter, whether that means safe streets or feeling safe in your own home.

The need for safe neighborhoods is a major concern for Mount Vernon residents of all ages, agreed Jean Williams, coordinator of the LCC site that serves that city and a district administrator for Family Services of Westchester. So she is bringing “youth, seniors and all of those in between” together to address that issue.

“The goal of supporting intergenerational activities and communities will benefit all community residents,” Williams said. “The combination of problem-solving skills in a diverse group, with a number of stakeholders, is more effective than the ability of a single group attempting to solve problems.”

Another milestone came this year with the start of the Livable Community Villages. Villages are groups of people with shared interests and goals. Many already exist throughout the county, such as neighborhood associations, houses of worship and social organizations.

Today, more than 70 Livable Community villages have been formed, and that number will continue to grow. Some villages have physical boundaries; others do not. They range from the Lewisboro Seniors, the Pleasantville Lions Club and the Peekskill Nutrition Center to Westchester Disabled on the Move and the Church of St. Simon the Cyrenian in New Rochelle.

Carpenter coined the Livable Communities motto of “Yes, We Care” because the outreach of village members to each other is essential for their success. A key component of villages is that ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ is a way of life,” Carpenter said. Something as simple as neighbors take turns picking up groceries for an elderly woman on their block can make the difference between her being able to age at home or having to relocate.

“If everyone who can reaches out and touches someone’s life in the spirit of ‘Yes, We Care,’ no one will miss a meal or ride to the doctor or be isolated to the point of loneliness and depression,” she said. “In our society people don’t like to say ‘I’m lonely.’ Some see it as a sign of weakness if you need people. We must break down those barriers.”

Bishop Preston of Christ Temple said the church has become a village as a result of seeing what the Livable Communities initiative had done with the traffic light.

David Juhren, executive director of The LOFT – the GLBT Community Services Center in White Plains, said the center became a village because it’s a good way to serve niche groups within the population, such as gay seniors.

“We’re trying to reach out to other villages who don’t know that our village exists,” Juhren said.

Karen Gordon, program director at The Preservation Company, a state-funded community group that addresses issues such as housing, said becoming a village offered networking and outreach opportunities.

She said in one instance, The Preservation Company joined with other agencies and community groups and the regional LCC to do a program on how to improve energy efficiency in the home.

“It’s great to have villages set up,” she said. “It’s great to have these networks set up because it makes it easier to transfer information.”

An LCC can have many villages within the municipalities it covers. The LCCs, in turn, help the villages with technical support and coordinating programs. But their goals are the same.

Information about Livable Communities has long been on the DSPS Web site, but with the introduction of the villages, the site was expanded to include a “Village Tool-Kit” with information visitors can download if they want to start a village.

Among those items is a power-point presentation about the Village Approach as well as a color brochure about villages in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Carpenter said that in the past three years the initiative has made tremendous headway, and she is sure the program will continue to gain. A case in point, she said is the newest program under the big Livable Community umbrella: the Livable Communities Caregivers Coaching Program (L3C).

That new initiative will start this fall with volunteers being trained by professionals to help family caregivers better care for an older or disabled person. The coaches are trained to help the caregivers make informed choices, and thereby directly contribute to helping seniors remain in their homes.

Communities, in general, have gotten so far away from the basics of extending helping hands that Livable Communities will help to recreate a mindset of caring for each other.