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Photo by: Allison Olcsvay - This month, Neighbors Network volunteers came over to help the Masons haul out their Christmas decorations and in less than an hour, the halls were decked.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 4 years ago

Volunteers help seniors deck the halls

Volunteers lend seniors a hand
by: Allison Olcsvay

Kathy and Mark Mason don’t look forward to the day they’re old enough to move into a group retirement home. They’ve lived in their home for 27 years. They raised their kids there, watching them grow up and move away, and recently welcomed Mark’s mother to join them.

“We’d like to stay here 27 more if possible,” Kathy said. For seniors like the Masons, the goal of never leaving their home at all is coming closer to a reality.

Kathy and Mark are part of a growing trend for seniors, known as the “village model,” rejecting the thought of moving to a retirement community, instead choosing to “age in place.”

A little over a year ago, Kathy found out such a “village” was coming to Winter Park and was very excited to be a part of it.

Neighbors Network is the first such group in Florida. Following the village model, they are creating a network of volunteers and service providers helping senior homeowners who need an occasional hand around the house.

For an annual fee of $500 per household or $375 per individual per year, members have access to a network of vetted volunteers and professionals who offer such services as computer help, light cleaning, shopping assistance, home organization, furniture moving and much more.

For more information about Neighbors Network, visit

Since they joined, Kathy and Mark have had their garage door oiled, which had been squeaky for ages, said Kathy.

“It’s a small thing, but big for us,” she said.

This month, volunteers came over to help the Masons haul out their Christmas decorations and in less than an hour, the halls were decked, the tree looked like a Macy’s display and the front porch got a winter wonderland makeover.

Pulling out cherished ornaments and sharing stories of her two boys, now grown, brought back memories for Kathy, as she expertly directed the volunteers.

One after another, she unwrapped popsicle stick- and macaroni-framed picture ornaments her sons make in grade school, showing them off as the treasured possessions that they are.

“I haven’t seen these in years,” Kathy said wistfully. “Normally, I just do a generic tree with bulbs, but since you all [volunteers] are here, I can bring out all the ornaments.”

Just in time too. Both of Kathy’s sons, coming home for Christmas this year, would be able to see the house decorated like she used to do when they were younger.

In addition to help around the home, Neighbors Network also provides a full calendar of social gatherings.

“We are not only providing a service to help people stay independent, but we are also providing an opportunity to socialize and to create community,” said Linda Hayes, Neighborhood Network advisory board member.

“Things that normally bring people together like school and church activities tend to diminish as we age and this brings back that excuse to be together, helping to prevent social isolation,” Kathy said.

“We feel very fortunate to be a part of this community,” she said. “We think Winter Park is very fortunate to have it and we are proud to be a leader for other networks to follow.”

As a retiree and volunteer, Fred MacDonald said this is an ideal opportunity.

“We have a lot of time on our hands, and need things to do and this gives us a chance to meet people and help them in practical ways.”

“The problem I often see is that people are afraid to ask for help, but because this is a service they subscribe to, people are more likely to reach out when they need it,” MacDonald said.

“For much less than the cost of a daily latte at Starbucks, I can have the piece of mind, knowing that if we need anything, someone will be there to help,” Kathy said. “It’s not much of a choice for me, I got the concept right away and I love it!”

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