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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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Neighbors Network helps local seniors stay independent, active, and connected

There’s no place like home. The people at Neighbors Network, based in Maitland, couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to the overall well-being of the senior population the organization serves.  

Though not a healthcare agency, Neighbors Network enhances the life of its members by providing support services for older adults who wish to live independently in their homes for as long as possible. Services offered include minor home repairs, rides to medical appointments, friendly home visits, help with technology, care of pets and plants while away, and an opportunity to participate in fun social activities and outings, among other things. 

Dr. Annette Kelly, Neighbors Network board president, is a geriatric nurse practitioner and the former CEO of the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She has studied and taught about the aging community most of her career. Almost a decade ago, Annette attended a conference on aging where she learned about Beacon Hill Village in Boston. A member-led community of active adults age 50 and older, Beacon Hill Village was the impetus of a growing nationwide movement to connect people who care for one another through support services, wellness programs, and social and educational activities.

Listening to the Beacon Hill Village representatives confirmed what Annette’s years of experience working in geriatrics taught her: people who have the opportunity to remain in their homes – or age in place, as it’s known – tend to do better when they have a peer-to-peer support system that reduces isolation and fosters an active lifestyle and independence.

“I’m 78, and that’s totally cool,” Annette says proudly. “Aging is not a diagnosis, though it’s often treated as one. AARP studies have shown that more than 90 percent of individuals want to stay right where they are as they grow older. Having seen the clinical side of elder care for many years, I wondered what we could do locally to address the human needs of seniors as      they age.”

After conducting a feasibility study funded by the Winter Park Health Foundation that demonstrated the need and viability of a village-model concept in our community, Annette was able to garner the support of area senior advocates, partner agencies, as well as other experts on aging. By 2013, Neighbors Network became a program under the auspices of the Senior Resource Alliance.

In just three years, as the program grew in membership, Neighbors Network became an independent nonprofit agency, serving Maitland, Winter Park, Eatonville, Casselberry, Fern Park, and parts of Altamonte Springs and Orlando. Over time, it was more than just members who appreciated the support they got from Neighbors Network. Often, it was adult children, like Shelly, who praised the organization for helping her mom, a retired teacher in her 80s. 

“Because she’s always been a very independent woman, she’s reluctant to ask me for every single little thing,” says Shelly. “Of course, I’m always there as she needs me, but I think Neighbors Network makes her more comfortable. I think it gives her some independence to be able to call someone and get it handled by herself.”

Anyone 55 or older in the designated service areas can join Neighbors Network by paying an annual membership fee of $375 per year for an individual or $500 per year for two senior adults or two adults with a disabled child. For those who cannot afford the annual fee, scholarships are offered for those who meet eligibility requirements.

“Sometimes, our own members contribute to scholarships,” says Annette. “We had a member who eventually sold her home and moved in with her daughter. She wanted to help another senior by paying back her scholarship.” 

The success of the village concept, and what keeps Neighbors Network thriving, are the volunteers who step up to help their neighbors. In some instances, senior members who have a special talent or skill to share are also volunteers. 

“Right now, we have about 45 volunteers,” says Mary T. Scott, vice president of marketing. “We do a background check on all volunteers, including their driver’s record if they drive members. What our volunteers enjoy is the fact that they can do what they enjoy doing, when it best suits their schedule. Our volunteers are people who believe in the concept of seniors remaining vibrant in their own homes. Others who believe in the concept become community members who enjoy participating in our social events such as luncheons, theater and museum outings, and a book club.”

“What is it you’d like to do?” asks Annette. “Come volunteer with us, and you can do it. Volunteers 18 and older can live anywhere. And, if you’re an adult over 55 who wants to connect to a support network, we are just a phone call away. We’d love to hear from you.”

To learn more about Neighbors Network, visit NeighborsNetworkFL.org or call 321-209-2775.

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