Newton at Home helps seniors get around, socialize and thrive

After 75-year-old Dorie Fried downsized from her former home of 40 years in Newtonville, she lives alone but with her cat, Cooper.

“Cooper keeps me good company,” Fried said.

But Fried has more than just her cat to socialize with in her retirement from teaching. She belongs to a book club, a dining club, a discussion club, and attends music classes.

That’s because she’s a member of Newton at Home, a non-profit that provides everything from rides to doctor’s appointments to social events for older Newton residents.

“They’re just a very caring, understanding organization that, you know checks in, generally cares about their clients,” Fried said.

Newton at Home is just one chapter of a nationwide movement called “Village to Village”, a project aimed at supporting older people who live on their own.

The movement started 25 years ago on Beacon Hill in Boston, when a group of friends created an social network that would support them in dynamic ways as they aged.

“I found it incredibly compelling that it was like this group of older neighbors kind of making choices together about making living at home work better for longer,” said Allison Godsey, the executive director of Newton at Home, who previously worked for Beacon Hill Village.

According to Godsey, Newton at Home’s members have a hand in creating the programs that serve them best.

“They’re not just passive recipients of some kind of, you know, social worker’s idea of improvement, but they’re innovating options for aging alongside us,” Godsey said.

The line between members and volunteers is blurry, as about a quarter of the organization’s 80 volunteers also receive services from the nonprofit, according to Godsey.

“They are supporting the organization themselves, or they’re having community members, who are volunteers and not members, do that with them,” Godsey said.

Newton at Home is a nonprofit that helps local seniors with rides, social engagements and more. Shown here, left to right, are Jennifer Sax, board president; Allison Godsey, executive director, and Deborah Fogel, volunteer. Courtesy Photo

Making friends

Volunteers who aren’t also clients say they benefit from Newton at Home in other ways.

Jim Rappaport volunteers for Newton at Home with his wife, Susan. He said that he has formed genuine friendships with the people he drives to appointments.

“She tells extraordinary stories, so we benefit as much, if not more, from the relationship than she does,” Rappaport said of a client he’s become close with.

Susan Rapoport said her volunteering has helped her to engage with a group of people she might not have met otherwise.

“It almost feels like the elderly kind of get pushed to the side or ignored, because they are older and maybe they’re not as engaged in the community, but they’re incredible people with incredible stories and strengths too,” Rapoport said.

Members pay an annual fee to gain unlimited access to Newton at Home’s range of services, but members can also specify what they want out of the nonprofit.

Clients may choose to join during only the summers, or only for Newton at Home’s social programs, or only for its custodial services.

“You pay one fee, and you kind of come as you are, and you get what you need, and there are no caps, except for what our volunteer pool can provide,” Godsey said.

Membership is designed to be cost-effective, according to Jennifer Sax, the president of Newton at Home’s board.

“You’re paying for it, but it’s pretty nominal,” Sax said. “You’re just paying like, one kind of rather modest annual membership to receive those type of services.”

Getting around

Transportation is a main element of Newton at Home’s services. The same volunteers often drive designated members to scheduled medical appointments, which Godsey creates a better experience than if the client were to go through a ride-share service.

“We get them there, not just like an Uber-style, you know, but we get them there with a helper who is looking out for them, and giving them friendly conversation and getting to know them,” Godsey said.

After the pandemic, Godsey said Newton at Home has seen more of a demand for what she calls “friendly visiting”, casual, at-home check-ins with the organization’s more home-bound members.

“There’s no agenda, but it’s incredibly powerful,” Godsey said. “It’s just like people getting together to know one another, and the immense value of that.”

Fried’s only wish for the nonprofit is that more people like her take advantage of it.

“I just hope that more people become aware of its existence, because I think that it could be so helpful to so many,” Fried said.