There is really nothing new about persons moving to a smaller home when they get older. There is really nothing new about cooperatives even housing cooperatives. Yet, it is the combination of the two in an affordable way in rural Wisconsin that makes this a model. Most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible. Nursing homes are important care for some but not a cost-effective way when there are alternatives to support seniors to stay in accommodating homes. By this model we will have increased the availability and affordability of new housing for persons who need that choice in rural Wisconsin.
Volunteer Senior Home Repair Program
Since 1996 we received three grants from the Retirement Research Foundation. The Volunteer Senior Home Repair Program was started in four counties and has been expanded to thirty nine more. From the numerous calls to our office it was clear that there was a need for small repairs that are not covered by other programs. Numerous surveys have shown that the significant majority of seniors want to remain in their homes. An AARP survey indicated that the 43% could not afford, 35% could not personally perform the work and 21% both did not know anyone who could do work and did not trust contractors. There is evidence that one fall prevented by a $30 grab bar can save $10,650 in medical expenses.
The primary objective is to have the small repairs done for the seniors. As of December 31, 2004 well over 1,700 seniors have been assisted. The over 2,100 jobs have varied from drippy faucets, porch railings and grab bars to accessibility ramps. The seniors are very pleased. Small repairs can add to keeping their home safe. Most jobs are under $200 for materials and generally the seniors insist on paying that. The ramps can be rented and reused when not needed by the first client.
The network of over 835 volunteers has contributed over 12,000 hours over the years. Usually, there is a core group and most only do a few jobs each year. Geographic distribution of volunteers is sometimes a trick in large counties. Volunteers have found the experience rewarding and the connections with the seniors has been as valuable as the repair.
The coordinator is the key. It is a flexible part time position but some have done an amazing job with the energy of both knowing people and actually doing some small jobs as well. The local control has meant that each program can be different in details. The flexibility and informality has made it non bureaucratic and responsive to the seniors, High School shop classes and civic groups have been involved in ramp building as well.
Some of the bonus that coordinators have generated included the design for the sectional reusable ramp, a coloring book for the next generation of volunteers, connections to chore and cleanup programs, a safety checklist and other useful information distributed to the seniors.
Link to Volunteer Senior Home Repair Manual