At the beginning of 2020, a small group of Swampscott residents got together to discuss a difficult topic: aging.
The Swampscott for All Ages Committee commissioned a needs assessment to see where the town was lacking in resources for its elderly residents. A big fear of many of those residents was that as they got older, they would have to leave the homes that they had made for themselves, moving into assisted living or nursing homes to get the necessary help that they needed to do everyday tasks.
“We found that about 18 percent of our population missed doctor’s appointments in the last year because of lack of transportation,” said Heidi Whear, Swampscott’s director of elder services. “We found that there were people that have needs that are going to require more and more to stay in their homes.”
The assessment also found that an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents wanted to stay in place as they got older.
To address the issue, Whear, along with volunteers from the Senior Center, Council on Aging and Swampscott for All Ages Committee, started what they hope will become the solution for aging residents in the area: Seaglass Village.
The organization is not a physical location, but a network of volunteers available to help with rides, household tasks and anything else that seniors in Swampscott, Marblehead and Nahant may need.
“If they need any help or services, someone in the office will match them to a volunteer,” said Library Director Alyce Deveau, who was chosen as the Village’s first-ever director. “It might be something like replacing a doorknob or taking out an air conditioner.”
Seaglass Village is modeled after a more widespread village movement, which started in 1999 in Beacon Hill when a group of friends developed a community-based approach to help them age in place. Since then, more than 300 villages have been created across the country, including several others in Massachusetts.
“It’s nice because they all work together,” Deveau said. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Both Deveau and Whear, the organization’s founding president, emphasized that they don’t want to take the place of other local organizations that serve seniors, but rather want to supplement them by offering the services that aren’t currently available.
Often, that is because other organizations are concerned about the liability of doing those tasks. However, Seaglass Village will be insured, and all volunteers will have to pass a Criminal Offense Record Information (CORI) check, be up to date on vaccinations and have a clean driving record if they plan to provide rides to members.
Members pay an annual fee, but Whear noted that they are working on fundraising for scholarships to ensure that cost does not prohibit anyone that wants to from joining.
Thanks to help from the community, the organization has secured an office space, and will move into its official home at First Church in Swampscott in October. They have also had many people reach out to sign up to volunteer, and have both financial donations and gifts like a rug and computer for the office.
Until they officially open and begin offering services later this fall, the members of Seaglass Village have focused on staying connected through the pandemic, holding beach gatherings to provide a social outlet.
“Our aging population is suffering so desperately from isolation,” Whear said. “What the village can do is offer a friendly call or a cribbage game on your front porch.”
For more information on membership and volunteer opportunities or to make a donation to Seaglass Village, call 781-718-0401 or visit seaglassvillage.org.