FINDLEY LAKE - One of the greatest fears the aging population faces is the possibility of having to leave one's home because one can no longer care for oneself.
Three ladies from Findley Lake have decided to do something about that.
Marlene Garone, Judy Hunt and Lin Baylis decided one day to use their experience in health care and education create Community Connections at Findley Lake, a non-profit organization designed to help elderly people remain in their homes as long as they choose by connecting them with existing social services.
"The three of us had the idea for some time," Garone said. "We knew members of our community who want to stay in their homes, but often are not able to because they cannot find assistance. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if there was a local group who could assist people to access services to help them stay in their homes.'"
Rural people can be very independent, Baylis added. Often they resist seeking help even if they know about it. Having an organization in their own community helps them to be more comfortable with services that are already available.
"We're serving as a connection to them," she said. "It's not like we've invented some new program, but we are helping them use what is out there. We are helping people navigate the waters - connecting people who can with people who need."
Community Connections has "three legs" Baylis said. The first is information dissemination in which a person in need is made aware of what services are available to help them.
The second is volunteerism. The group currently has six volunteers who are available to assist the elderly with tasks such as transportation, grocery shopping and picking up medications. "Obtaining meds can be a game changer for people," Hunt said. "No one delivers to this area."
The third aspect of the program involves local service providers willing to provide work for elderly at reduced rates. This is still in its beginning stages.
Having the program in the community center at Findley Lake helps to put people at ease, Hunt said, but the group hopes to extend their services beyond the local area.
"We're based in Findley Lake, but we are not exclusively Findley Lake," she said.
Another reason people are comfortable with Community Connections is the group's choice of Christine Ball to serve as administrative director. A Findley Lake resident herself, Ball is well known by people in the area.
"Our location and Christy's level of familiarity and comfort are, I think, very critical for our success," Hunt said.
Ball said she was "very excited" about the program when she was asked to serve as director. Her duties include not only bookkeeping and secretarial duties, but researching programs to become familiar with how each one can help a particular person. When someone calls or stops by needing assistance, she is better able to match their need to the service.
"Most people use our service one time right now, but that's because they have a one-time need," she said.
The funding for Community Connections comes from the same source as the idea for it.
"Three ladies made a commitment for two years," Garone said. "We decided that this is what we need to do, and we totaled up the cost and divided it by three. We hope that at some point there will be grant funds available. ... We want to make it sustainable in the long run."
This kind of community-based service is becoming essential, Garone said.
"As baby boomers are approaching retirement and, you look at this generation - how family structures are different and how mobile children are - the importance of community support is extreme," she said.
The program has met with rapid success, Ball said. In the first eight weeks since the Feb. 1 kickoff, more than 35 people have benefited from the program at some level.
Community Connections has become known to several agencies in the county, including the R.U.O.K. - as in "Are you okay?" - program operated by the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department. This program provides daily calls to an elderly person's home just to check up on their welfare. If two calls are not answered, someone from the office will come to the home.
"The sheriff's department know us well," Hunt said. "We have bulked up their numbers out here pretty quickly."
Another program Community Connections is associated with is Residential Services Volunteer Program, or RSVP, which connects volunteers with elderly people to assist with a variety of needs.
In the end, the founding members of Community Connections share a single purpose.
"To keep people in their homes safely," Baylis said.
"For as long as they choose," followed Garone.
"Enabling them to remain as long as they can," finished Hunt.