Aging Together in Rappahannock: Keeping the conversation going

Since mid-February it’s been my pleasure to serve as Aging Together’s new resource specialist in Rappahannock County and to meet a number of wonderful community-minded people working to make life better for all of the county’s residents: Darcy Canton at the Senior Center; Sharon Pyne of DSS; Linda Dietel at The Link; Hal Hunter and Kathy Eggers of Plant-a-Row; Mimi Forbes and her friendly crew at the Food Pantry; Judy Reidinger of the Sperryville Rescue Squad — to name a few.

One Thursday afternoon when most of these people and many others were gathered at the library for the monthly Rappahannock Eldercare Coalition meeting, the combined creativity, compassion, and commitment in the room made me feel grateful for the chance to be a part of their joint effort.

I’ve been impressed to learn about many of the recent projects here in Rappahannock: the restoration of the historic Scrabble School and the expansion of the Senior Center it made possible; the organization of Plant-a-Row and the founding of the Food Pantry; the formation of the Benevolent Fund and its amazingly successful snowstorm fundraising dinner; Doug Schiffman’s region-wide Protective Money Management Program. Now, punching the clock for Aging Together, I get to help with some new projects I hope will also make a positive difference in people’s lives.

One is a caregivers support group that will start meeting at The Link in early June. I know from personal experience how valuable a support group can be for people caring for a spouse, parent, or sibling with dementia or some other crippling disease. As my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, my father and I both found our worlds more and more centered around her care.

The chance to get out of the house once a month for the support group meetings at the Warrenton Senior Center, the chance to hear other people’s stories about the challenges of caregiving, and to share our own, has been a healthy, important experience for both of us. Caregiving is often isolating and stressful, so it’s important to find a way to get together with others in similar situations to have a chance to chat and share and learn together.

With training from the Alzheimer’s Association, a generous offer of meeting space at The Link, and the support of Aging Together and the RRCSB-AAA, we’re able to offer not only a support group but also professional respite care while the support group meets, so caregivers can relax knowing their loved ones are well-taken care of. Please, if you know people in the caregiver’s role, urge them to contact me at 540-675-2531 or at lstillwell@agingtogether.org.

Already, I have heard from enough Rappahannock caregivers to erase any doubt I might have had about the need for a support group like this.

I’m also excited to be a part of another Aging Together project here in Rappahannock: our annual Community Conversation, which will take place at The Link on the morning of Thursday, June 10. I’m eager to be there when the people I’ve met through Aging Together — and many more — come together to share their ideas, hopes, and concerns about maintaining quality of life for everyone in Rappahannock County.

This year’s focus is two-fold: First, an exploration of how Aging Together can best serve community efforts in Rappahannock County and the five-county region as we prepare for the coming baby boomer retirement wave. Second, a roundtable of “local luminaries” will share their perspectives on Rappahannock’s future and how community collaboration on projects like the Scrabble School and the Food Pantry can improve everyone’s quality of life here.

This august group will include community leaders from some of my favorite Rappahannock community efforts: the Senior Center, Scrabble School, the Food Pantry, The Link, Plant-a-Row, and others. I look forward to hearing their insights on how collaboration and volunteerism can continue to help make Rappahannock a healthy and strong community.

Within 10 years, one-fourth of the population will be more than 60 years old. We know these older citizens will need strong support from their community to continue living here. And we know that as the population ages the number of family caregivers will continue to increase. Government, businesses, families — all of us need to plan for an aging population. That’s what this year’s Community Conversation is all about: it’s an opportunity for our community to come together and focus on developing plans that will help maintain quality of life for older adults and for all of us.

I like being a part of Aging Together because it gives me a chance to work with others on important local projects like these, all of which are shaped and brought to life by local people, mostly volunteers. I hope many of you will join us at The Link on Thursday morning, June 10. See you there!

This is the first in a series of occasional columns by Larry Stillwell, Aging Together’s resource specialist for Rappahannock County. He can be reached at 540-675-2531 or at lstillwell@agingtogether.org.

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