This year’s Senior Coastsiders Home Repair Day marks 30 years of local volunteers making repairs and improvements to the homes of seniors. Home Repair Day is traditionally held the first Saturday of June and sees upward of 130 volunteers coming together to work on approximately 35 seniors’ homes.
Volunteers work in teams gardening, painting, rebuilding decks or wheelchair ramps, installing grab bars and fixing drywall, and working on plumbing and siding among other duties. Lunch is delivered and eaten on-site, often along with the homeowner before work is resumed.
At the end of this exhausting day, everyone meets up to share pizza and a drink at a local restaurant. It is hard to even imagine that scenario now in our super-sanitized and masked reality! The coronavirus crisis has reminded us that no tradition is immune to the upheaval of the pandemic and so we again find ourselves adapting to our new normal.
Homeowner applications begin arriving in January each year for the event, but the majority of applications usually arrive around the end of March and beginning of April. Volunteer recruitment and sponsorship solicitation normally ramp up around the third week of March. These schedules coincided almost exactly with the increase in COVID-19 cases and the county shelter-in-place orders. Because of this, we have a lower than normal application pool and an even lower pool of volunteers. But adapt we will.
This year, instead of a one-day event, we hope to complete as many projects as possible over the course of the next six to seven weeks. This will allow flexibility for more people, which we hope will increase the overall number of volunteers who can help.
We will lean more heavily on our more skilled handymen and contractors who can do jobs quickly and efficiently and who can likely complete multiple smaller safety projects during the six-week period. As always, our focus will remain on safety and accessibility, but this year even more so.
Gardening and beautification jobs, for the most part, will be postponed until such a time that it is safe for groups of volunteers to assemble together. Additionally, we will keep interior jobs limited to one or two volunteers and exterior jobs to teams of no more than three unless they are within the same family or can be kept socially distant. The safety of our clients and volunteers is our highest priority.
Since the second week of March, staff and volunteers at our center have been focused almost entirely on keeping older adults fed and safe at home, first by switching from our dining room to a grab-and-go lunch and then to our home-delivered meals program. We transitioned from an average of 45 seniors a day receiving meals at home to an astounding 200-plus. This required vetting and training an army of new volunteers, many to temporarily replace long-serving “older” volunteers who have found themselves sheltering in place as well.
We await further instructions from the county Health Department and are beginning discussions on what a re-opening will look like for our center, both for lunch and for classes.
In the meantime, we will continue to provide home-delivered meals to any older adults in need, and work with our instructors and participants to get people socializing and learning virtually. And finally, we will make sure that our annual Home Repair Day(s) will happen so that older adults can remain independent and safe in their homes.
While the bulk of home repair projects occur during our Repair Day in June, Senior Coastsiders provides home repair assistance year-round. Applications are always available at our office at 925 Main St. and we address issues as they arise. Call the Senior Coastsiders office for more information.
Hope Atmore is program manager for Senior Coastsiders.