New nonprofit helps people socially connect, receive basic services
What: Sierra Foothills Village
Rural America has a problem.
Despite maintaining stronger social networks than urbanites, residents of rural communities report feeling “left out” more frequently, according to Carrie Henning-Smith’s research with the University of Minnesota Rural Health Resource Center.
In Nevada County, a tangentially related project has cropped up.
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The nonprofit Sierra Foothills Village issued a soft launch on Thursday to connect people with basic services — transportation to doctors appointments, short-term pet walking or plant watering — and to their social needs, which include friendly visits, transportation and to friends’ homes.
“The idea is to create more community support,” said the nonprofit’s Executive Director Erin Noel.
Sierra Foothills Village has 20 volunteer-trained drivers in a pool of 60 total volunteers. Early next year the nonprofit will host a hard launch. It is currently trying to accrue more members.
Noel said she got involved with the organization because of her parents, who are now in their 80s. She fears them being left out of the county’s community, not contributing or enjoying its benefits. That concern extends to other older people. The sentiment is particularly relevant in Nevada County, where 26% of residents are over the age of 60, said Noel.
“I realized the importance of not leaving seniors alone in their homes,” she said. “They have so much to contribute.”
HOW IT WORKS
Beginning on the east coast, Noel said there are now more than 400 “village” organizations, which is not a franchise but more akin to a “coalition of ideas.” The village organizations allow elders to stave off moving into assisted living homes for seven to 10 years, said Noel.
The nonprofit, like other villages, is not a physical, brick-and-mortar village, but a virtual one.
Although the program targets the elderly, the $42 per month membership is not restricted to that population. There are fee waivers for low-income individuals, said Noel.
Before launching, the nonprofit surveyed 400 people and found transportation to be an outsized issue, said Noel. A similar point was echoed by Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s President and CEO Dr. Brian Evans.
The goal of the nonprofit is straightforward: connect older residents to the places they want to go and to the people they want to see. As Noel puts it, she hopes to facilitate their connection to the county so everyone can benefit from their wisdom and knowledge, preventing older individuals from being sequestered in their homes.
The program provides background checks and training for volunteers who sign up.
When a member is in need of a particular service, said Noel, the nonprofit sends out an email to see which volunteer is available.
“A huge focus is helping people with the decisions they’ve already made,” said Noel.
Noel said she’s been collaborating with existing organizations like the Aging and Disability Resource Connection and FREED Center for Independent Living. The executive director also plans to speak with representatives from Nevada County schools to connect elders and senior students, somewhat similar to the connection made earlier this year between a high school English class and elders at Grass Valley’s Eskaton Village.
“It’s way more like a neighborhood, way more like a family,” said Noel. “If you call, we’re going to get to know you as a person.”
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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