Marin Voice Article
June 8, 2020
By Peter Lee and Cheryl Sorokin
Before COVID-19, before social distancing and masks and gloves and hand sanitizer shortages, many older adults in Marin were happily choosing to remain independent in the places they had called home for much of their lives, enjoying that lifestyle with a community of like-minded peers.
While that choice still feels right for most, quarantine and the pandemic have raised new challenges.
The Marin Villages nonprofit assists older adults who want to age in place by offering volunteer services to help with daily needs such as transportation, errands, handyman help, technical support, companionship, pet care, and more. These services provide not only a way to achieve daily ends, but they also create a sense of connection between volunteers and the people they help that can sometimes be missing in older adults’ daily lives.
Our volunteer corps numbers over 400, and we are recruiting more each week during this pandemic. Throughout this time of “shelter in place,” we continue to help members stay safe at home with grocery runs, prescription pickups, trips to medical appointments, and companionship calls. In addition, we have a “no wrong door” policy, so that if a member has a need that we cannot fulfill, we can refer them to a network of providers in the county who can.
By finding a way to systematically harness the power of volunteers, we have been able to find an outlet for people to do what they are naturally inclined to — help others. We ask volunteers to accept two assignments a month, as a minimum, but leave the scheduling and choice of assignment to them. In this time where it’s more important than ever for older adults to stay home, our volunteers have become a lifeline, one for which our members are incredibly grateful.
Pre-pandemic, in addition to helping members with volunteer services, we also offered them a rich choice of activities to foster connection. Each of our six local villages (Tiburon Peninsula, Mill Valley, Twin Cities, Ross Valley, San Rafael, and Novato) held monthly events that allowed members to pursue interests, try new things, stay physically and mentally active, and have fun, all in the company of their peers.
COVID-19 temporarily put a stop to the in-person events, but Marin Villages now has the majority of those activities available on Zoom, helping to minimize the isolation of quarantine and allowing members to reconnect with friends and peers. Who says 90 year-olds can’t learn new tricks?
In addition, we are dealing with the specific issues facing older adults during this time by offering a Zoom session on avoiding current scams, partnering with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging for special presentations, and providing a constantly updated list of different activities to do at home, both online and off.
We have members in their 90s and a few over 100. They have lived through many dangerous times, including the aftermath of the 1918 pandemic, two world wars, the Great Depression, and other economic downturns. They understand loss and how to be independent and how to take care of themselves. They are a resilient group, but even they need help now and again, and Marin Villages makes it possible for them to get the help they need when they need it.
Of the county’s population, 28% is over 60 — the age most susceptible to serious illness from the coronavirus, so the need to support our older citizens is more critical now than ever before. Marin Villages volunteers are playing a vital role in helping to protect this vulnerable population. In good times or bad, being a Marin Villages' volunteer is a great way to give back to the community, and being a member offers the chance to find a new community.
Every society that blends its younger and older populations is richer and happier. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or joining as a member or donating to the cause of helping older adults age safely in place in Marin, please visit our website at MarinVillages.org or contact our office at (415) 457-4633.
Cheryl Sorokin, of Tiburon, is president of the Marin Villages' board of directors. Peter Lee, of Corte Madera, is Marin Villages' interim executive director.