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Senior Fix-It Corps hurting for handy volunteers

By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 17. 2017 12:50AM
Volunteer John Fisher works with Claire Robert on repairing her awning at her Nashua home on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Claire and Roland Robert have spent 60 of their 67 years of marriage in the same home in Nashua. The sprightly couple has no plans to leave, but there are jobs around the house they can no longer do themselves.

Whether it’s taking down the outdoor awnings on their ranch-style home in the winter or putting air conditioners in the windows in the summer, the Roberts call on the Fix-It Corps of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to respond.

Volunteers with the program are usually retired from a trade — electrical, plumbing or construction — and offer their time and skills to help seniors like the Roberts stay in their home by doing small jobs.

On this day, it was John Fisher from Nashua who responded to do some work on the couple’s porch. He’s a retired U.S. Navy commander who spent years in nuclear submarines, earned five masters degrees and two doctorate degrees, and most recently retired as a professor at the University of North Carolina.

“We call him and he’s there,” said Claire Robert, 84. “And it allows us to stay in our home.”

But the program, which serves all of Hillsborough County, is hurting. The office receives three to four calls a week from lower-income seniors in need, but there are only eight volunteers to perform the work.

Jennifer Sanders, volunteer services director at Southern New Hampshire Services, which administers the program, said it hopes to bring in another 25 volunteers. The program is looking for volunteers 55 or older, especially in the Manchester area.

She said the goal is to help seniors age safely in their homes. She points to state figures that show the annual cost of nursing home care for one person is $75,821.

“If there is a senior that has fallen because they didn’t have a grab bar or a ramp for a wheelchair, if there was something that has happened that could have prevented them from going into a nursing home, these are the problems we’re trying to fix,” Sanders said. “We don’t want them going into a nursing home for something that is preventable.”

The work is done at the volunteers’ convenience and the materials are provided by the homeowner. In some cases, the materials are donated. Sanders said RSVP never turns down a senior in need, but the shortage of volunteers may cause a delay in getting work done.

“If we had a few more volunteers, we could be doing this work in a few days as opposed to a few weeks,” Sanders said. “We want to be out there and respond as quickly as we can to prevent falls and prevent accidents. The longer we wait, the bigger the risk is.”

For Fisher, volunteering was a “way of paying it forward.” Fisher, 66, said he enjoys the work and knows there may be a time when he will be looking for the help, instead of providing it.

“I enjoy doing it. I do it for people but it keeps me busy and engaged and it’s not terribly challenging,” Fisher said.

Claire Robert retorted with a smile, “I can give you some more work.”

It’s not just about the work. There’s camaraderie, too. Roland Robert was intrigued by Fisher’s experience in submarines and the two talked about Fisher’s days in the Bering Sea and uncharted waters in the Philippine Sea. It’s this back-and-forth that makes the Fix-It Corps a success, Sanders said.

“Our volunteers, their quality of life is improved by being out there in the community and the impact they are making,” Sanders said. “Our reward is making a difference.”

Growing the number of volunteers will also help with one of the biggest calls for help the group sees — the need for ramps. Sanders said these jobs take teams of people to install.

“We do get a lot of calls for ramps. We just don’t have the volunteers,” Sanders said.

For information on the program, and how to donate or volunteer, call 634-1169 or e-mail Heather LaTourette at hlatourette@snhs.org.

ggrosky@unionleader.com


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