(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
Like their neighbors, Rosé Saltzman, 80, and her husband, Ira, of West Roxbury, watched the approach of winter storm with anxious anticipation.
Fortunately, one worry was off their shoulders: Thanks to AgeWell West Roxbury, a neighborhood volunteer stood ready to shovel them out, through a program that matches neighbors with seniors who need snow-shoveling help.
They are among the many Boston-area volunteers that stepped up to help neighbors in the aftermath of the blizzard.
“We're in our 80s, so we can't shovel too good,” said Saltzman, who called the program “fabulous.” Her husband has leg and heart problems and can’t handle the burden of shoveling the two out. If it weren't for AgeWell, the pair would be stuck in their home, Saltzman said.
AgeWell West Roxbury, an effort led by the non-profit Ethos organization, launched the volunteer shoveling program three years ago, as part of a larger effort to promote independence among elderly residents. The program has made 15 volunteer-senior matches so far this year, up from 12 last season.
AgeWell polls area seniors, asking if they have the means to afford shoveling. Each volunteer commits to shoveling a home for the winter.
"It's hard to get an individual contract for shoveling at an affordable rate," said Raymond Santos, community relations director at Ethos. "But we've gotten a good start. We get calls from seniors saying they are very appreciative."
Santos said there is a need for more volunteers to help with seniors’ requests. During last weekend's blizzard, members of Ethos "rolled up their sleeves, with all hands on deck," he said. And there is more snow in the forecast.
Ethos, in its 39th year, provides services for seniors in southwest Boston, with a goal of allowing them to “age in place.” The program launched AgeWell West Roxbury six years ago, to focus on residents of the close-knit community. West Roxbury has a large population of residents older than 65 who own their own homes, Santos said.
While families historically have been the key support for seniors, Santos said the aging generation has seen relatives moving further away. “The community needs to step up and play the part,” he said.
The shoveling program receives support from the Home Depot, which offers its staff as volunteers on occasion. It also receives funding from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.
AgeWell West Roxbury recently was named a “Social Innovator for 2013” by Root Cause – an award that carried a $100,000 prize, some of which is to be used to hire consultants, from graphic designers to business advisors, to help spread the word about the AgeWell program to possible funders and supporters.
AgeWell offers seniors free or low-cost educational workshops and exercise and balance programs, as well as hosting social events. Among the programs offered are diabetes self-management, Tai Chi, memory training, and tools for caregivers.
Dale Mitchell, executive director of Ethos, believes community support for the elderly is increasingly important.
Care for seniors who want to stay at home “is a four-legged table that has been dependent on three legs," he said. Those "legs" consist of the extended family; the support circle; and the social service provider. "But there has always been a missing element. And this is of the community," he said. He believes members of the neighborhood play an important role in promoting aging in place.
"You know the phrase, 'it takes a village to raise a child?' Well, it takes a village to care for an elder," he said.
To volunteer with AgeWell West Roxbury, call Ann Glora, healthy aging manager, at 617-477-6616.
Also, in the spring, Ethos will host a “West Roxbury Rocks” fundraiser to benefit AgeWell West Roxbury and its programs. For more information on the April 26 event, visit http://www.ethocare.org/.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.