Block Island’s Senior Advisory Committee may have discovered a valuable resource in its efforts to bolster services and programs to meet the needs of the island’s seniors who wish to age in place.
Gloria Redlich, SAC’s Senior Coordinator, told The Block Island Times that the resource is Bill Flynn, the Executive Director of the Providence-based nonprofit Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island, which advocates for seniors. “He is a terrific resource,” said Redlich, who was recently introduced to Flynn through networking channels. Flynn’s group advocates for seniors through community organizing, public education, and legislative advocacy.
“I was impressed with him,” said Redlich, who noted that she spent an hour-and-a-half speaking with Flynn on the phone about possible ways to benefit Block Island’s seniors. “They’re SAC too,” she said. “They would love to share their resources with us. The big thing is networking with people like him to find the resources that we need.”
Redlich said Flynn informed her about various programs aimed at tackling the dilemma of aging in place. One such resource is The Providence Village of Rhode Island, which is a nonprofit created by seniors to keep seniors in their homes as they age through access to services and programs. The web-link for the group is: www.providencevillageri.org.
“It is a neighbors-helping-neighbors [type of] nonprofit organization based in adjoining neighborhoods in Providence and Pawtucket,” Flynn told The Times. “Through a pool of member-volunteers and a small paid staff, it provides access to services and social activities that enable seniors to age in the community for as long as possible. I believe the Providence Village could be helpful to SAC in sharing how they turned a survey and discussions into action, and what they have learned from two years of work.”
Redlich said, “The primary reason people join groups like Providence Village is to vet and find services, but an equally important reason is for people to be involved in something meaningful in their lives. They look for services at first, but end up getting involved in something meaningful.”
Flynn has offered to visit Block Island to speak with the island’s seniors about results of the survey that SAC is distributing to island residents in May. The survey is designed to gauge the interest and demand for on-island care for seniors. Redlich said that Flynn suggested using the survey’s questions to trigger a storytelling session with the island’s seniors, which he agreed to participate in to help facilitate a discussion.
“I was impressed that SAC is doing a comprehensive survey through which it is seeking to reach out as widely as possible to Block Island’s seniors, as well as to their families and caregivers,” said Flynn. “I believe that the following step should be to use the survey’s findings as a basis for a series of structured public discussions, which can provide more context and richness to those findings.”
Redlich said Flynn’s SAC group uses storytelling as a device to inform problem solving efforts during public discussions, something which could be useful on Block Island. “They gather seniors together, and ask them to tell their story,” she said. “Each person tells their personal story, and he said, what happens is, you learn things about people that you didn’t know before.”
“The primary building blocks of our community organizing work for seniors are house meetings — small group gatherings where each person briefly shares a story about aging, either about themselves, or someone they know,” said Flynn. “We have found that stories build relationships between participants, whereas opinions can be argumentative and divisive. At these meetings we almost always learn something new about an aging-related concern or program, while also learning which of our concerns are most relevant to the group.”
“It’s personal narratives,” said Redlich. “Getting people to share their narrative, as a way to gather knowledge about each other.” She said Flynn told her that, “Sometimes you hear a certain narrative over and over again.”
Another subject Redlich and Flynn discussed was the importance of providing caregivers on the island. “We have some caregivers who do work on the island,” said Redlich, “but the problem is bringing more to the island and having the ability to provide them with housing. The lack of caregivers on-island comes head to head with the island’s housing issue.”
At a meeting in January, SAC discussed the possibility of creating a senior living facility on the island for people who can no longer live in their homes. “The problem is we’re a virtual senior center,” said Redlich, noting that Flynn mentioned that grants, including legislative grants, may be a potential way to support SAC’s initiatives.
“I gathered that some SAC folks have expressed strong interest in developing some housing with supportive services for Block Island’s older seniors and those who are living alone,” said Flynn. “I would suggest that initial efforts be less ambitious and seek to test how many islanders want to become involved in an organized group, donate dues and time, and thus develop local leaders and a track record of coordinated work before seeking more ambitious goals requiring major funding sources.”
Redlich said that her SAC group is also using North Haven, Maine, an island community, as a model. “They made a 12 minute short film called ‘Aging On An Island – Voices from North Haven, Maine.’ The film features the voices of the island’s residents. They talk about why they want to stay on the island if they can no longer stay in their homes. It’s very moving.” The movie can be found on YouTube.