By Ansley Brackin
During his 24 years of preaching at Dunwoody UMC, retired pastor Rev. Wiley Stephens expressed a desire to provide more aid and activities for older adults. This request eventually transformed into Perimeter North Villages: a “virtual retirement village” of sorts, formed by six Atlanta-Roswell District UMCs.
The communities surrounding Dunwoody UMC, Kingswood UMC, St. James UMC (Atlanta), Sandy Springs UMC, Chamblee UMC, and Winters Chapel UMC have large older adult populations, many of whom would prefer to live in their homes as they get older, rather than move to a retirement or assisted living facility.
After finding inspiration through a retirement organization in Massachusetts, the churches requested a grant through the Georgia Division of Aging, and received $70,000 in August 2014. With that money they hired Executive Director, Mary Louise Connor, who hit the ground running to bring Perimeter North Villages to life.
Perimeter North Villages is now one of 190 "villages" across 40 states providing in-home volunteer and vendor based caretaking to older adults. The program costs participants $400 a year (scholarships and monthly payment plans available) plus $200 for each additional family member, and is available to those over 50 years old.
All volunteers and vendors are pre-screened before being incorporated into the program and go through a training process. Vendors are provided for handy work, electrical work, plumbing and other professional services. Volunteer services include providing transportation to the doctor and the grocery store, meal delivery, minor household chores, and companionship. The program also organizes outings for its members, such as art gallery openings, lunch dates, as well as crafts and performances.
“It’s a cool idea,” Connor says. “The volunteers may even get more out of it that the people they’re helping.”
She enjoys hearing the stories and enthusiasm from their volunteers. After they’ve done it once, she says they are hooked and eager to spend more time with the members, who love the attention they receive.
Volunteers, half of which come from the church congregations while the rest come from the surrounding communities, are drawn to the schedule flexibility. No one has to commit to the same day each week, and they always have a choice as to whether or not they accept a job.
The program hopes to one day form relationships with small churches in the area to help with their congregations’ seniors, many of whom would prefer assistance from someone they already know.
“We could be a great resource for small churches who don’t have the ability or knowledge to do this alone,” Connor says.
She finds that many small church pastors and members want to be more involved with their older adults but are unsure of how to organize a similar system. Together, Perimeter North Villages and small congregations could one day provide an extended version of pastoral care.
Currently, Perimeter North Villages is operating with 40 volunteers and 28 vendors. Since their start in April 2015, they have signed on 30 members, responded to over 80 service requests, and expect to have 100 members by September 2016.
Anyone who would like to get involved or learn more about the program can visit their website, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 470-231-0015.