Project Supports Seniors at Home
By Rebecca Jones
Al Coven, a retired firefighter, displays one of his paintings, which adorn the Edgewater house that's been his home for 65 years.
Photography by James Chance
Al Coven, 94, has lived in the same house in Edgewater for 65 years. It's two blocks from the home where he grew up, where his brother still lives. Audrey, his wife of 72 years, spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home until her death in 2010. The bill topped $92,000. Coven is hoping he can avoid ending his days the way his wife did.
"Living at home has been my plan the whole time," he says. "But plan and 'can do' are two different things. I'm hoping that if I can just have a nurse come in, have a housekeeper once in a while, I might just be able to stay here."
Alison Joucovsky is hoping for the same thing for Coven. Because he lives in Edgewater, it might just happen.
Joucovsky is program manager of JFS Colorado Senior connections, a program in partnership with Jewish Family Service of Colorado, the city of Edgewater, Volunteers of America, Saint Anthony Hospitals Health Passport and Brothers Redevelopment, Inc. the program is based on the principles of "Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities" or NORCs, which promote the ability of older adults to age in place. The program, the first of its kind in Colorado, reaches out to Edgewater seniors – and to others living in nearby neighborhoods – and puts them in touch with each other, building friendships and community spirit. It also connects them with resources that can help them remain in their homes as they age.
There are NORC projects all over the country. Each takes advantage of geographic areas with sizable proportions of elderly residents.
Edgewater is a tiny community – just 5,000 residents living in one square mile. About a third are older than 65. Joucovsky helps participants fill out Medicaid applications and answers questions about food stamps. But she also connects them with wellness programs, volunteer opportunities, and services and activities they might not have thought about.
Education and recreation are a big part of the program. "We have lots of trips and classes. That's kind of a door opener," she says. "Somebody might not be intimidated coming to a computer class, but would be intimidated to let you in their home. But once they get to know you, see you in class and realize you're someone they can trust, then they might say, 'I don't have enough money for groceries and I can't drive anymore.' They only tell you that when they trust you."
Most of all, Senior Connections encourages older Edgewater residents to decide for themselves what they would like to see happen in their community and then empowers them to make that happen through volunteer engagement and community building.
"It's bringing the whole community to the table, pulling from everybody's strengths," Joucovsky says.
One example: Edgewater seniors have been recruited to work as life coaches with teens at nearby Jefferson High School. "A lot of the seniors living in Edgewater are retired teachers. This gets them actively involved in the community. It's neighbors helping neighbors," she says.
When Joucovsky first met Coven, a retired firefighter, he had just lost his wife. When he told her he liked painting, she suggested he come to an art class. Then she got him to begin volunteering at some senior events. "Finally I say, 'Al, what if we got you a housekeeper, someone to come and clean every two weeks, so you don't have to change your linens and do heavy lifting?'"
One thing led to another, and Coven has discovered a wealth of activities and support, right in his own backyard. "It's been a godsend for him," Joucovsky says.
Measuring success is challenging, she acknowledges. "Is the reason Mrs. Jones was able to stay in her home because she had neighbors who looked in on her or because she went to the doctor and got a new heart medicine? It's hard to know," she says. "But are we saving money by keeping people in their own homes? Absolutely. This is a model that works."