September 22, 2022

CT program matches volunteers with seniors who need help cleaning, gardening or just looking for a friend – Hartford Courant

Aged 86, June Swift from Manchester has mobility issues and needs help with light housework and household chores such as washing the dishes and making her bed.

Smith found help for free — and made a new friend in the process — when she was matched with volunteer Beth Smith, 59, through UR Community Cares, an all-volunteer organization that helps in the daily tasks of people who are at least 70 years old or who have a disability.

“Even if she stays an hour, it’s wonderful. I have a lot of trouble moving around and doing things,” said Swift, who has had back and knee surgery and has osteoporosis. “I’m delighted – it’s a great organization.”

The statewide program has participants in more than 135 Connecticut cities and has approximately 650 members and more than 600 volunteers.

Community Connections are established through an online portal on the UR Community Cares website accessible to individuals and places like hospitals and social service agencies. On the website, community members can post what they need to do, and volunteers, who check all of their backgrounds, see what’s right for them. Members can request help with infrequent tasks, such as raking leaves, or they can request help more frequently, such as once a week.

The goal is to make UR Community Cares a national organization of “neighbors helping neighbors,” said co-founder and president Michelle Puzzo, a physical therapist for more than 20 years who left that field to manage the growing program without receive salary.

Puzzo noticed the need for such an organization when she worked in homes as a physiotherapist.

“It’s rewarding to watch it grow and connect these communities,” she said. “We help so many people.”

Running the organization has been a “labor of love,” Puzzo said.

As part of the growth, the all-volunteer organization is seeking donations so that Puzzo can become a paid director of the organization.

The need is great, Puzzo said, because people are living longer and with fixed incomes and inflation, many cannot afford to hire helpers for tasks like cleaning, yard work, transport or even the company.

The cost of running the program is covered by grants, municipal funds and donations.

Swift said she doesn’t have family to help her around the house and looks forward to Smith coming once a week.

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Smith found the organization while looking for volunteer opportunities during the pandemic, and the organization “spoke to me.”

She helps Swift one day a week with anything she needs.

“I really feel like I’m helping her age in place,” Smith said, noting that she learned the importance of that from helping her own parents. “Sometimes we sit down and chat. If I can’t go there for some reason, I feel like I’ve missed something.

Smith said a grateful Swift welcomed him “so happily”.

Find out how to become a member, volunteer or how to donate at urcommunitycares.org or 860-430-4557.

Pam McLoughlin can be contacted at [email protected].