Elks give seniors a helping hand

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Judy Jaworski of Naugatuck sits on her patio at her Clearview Circle home. Jaworski was helped out by the Elks Senior Home Work Project, a program meant to help senior citizens with chores at their homes. Among the work done, the group helped her trim and maintain some of the shrubbery in her yard. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When Naugatuck resident Ruth Braziel needed her air conditioner put in and a clothesline put up this summer, she decided to turn to the Naugatuck Elks Lodge for help. And she couldn’t be happier with the results.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I love these guys,” said Braziel, who is in her 80s and lives by herself. “I’m in heaven in my front room with my knitting and just with the air conditioning. It’s beautiful.”

Braziel received this help as part of the Elks Senior Home Work Project, a program that the Naugatuck Elks Lodge started approximately four years ago with a grant from the Elks National Foundation. The group decided to start this program based on the number of senior citizens in Naugatuck who didn’t have anywhere or anyone else to turn to for help with minor household chores and repairs.

“Their children have had to move away, or they have no children,” said Elks member Jon Branco, “and they move here, and they’re kind of by themselves.”

The Senior Home Work Project is made up of volunteers who come to senior citizens’ houses once a month and assist them with chores that they have trouble completing themselves, such as changing light bulbs, cleaning gutters, and trimming shrubs.

“We do the preventive maintenance that keeps bigger things from happening down the road,” said Branco.

By helping with these chores, the Elks hope to help Naugatuck’s seniors continue to live in their own homes for as long as possible.

“The idea of the whole thing was to let people live in their houses a little bit longer,” said Jim Desmarais, committee chair of the program. “We’ve done some houses where the people are pretty elderly and they still keep them up pretty good, but they still need a little extra help.”

Demand for their services has been going up over the past few years.

Ruth Braziel poses for a portrait in the greenhouse at the Naugatuck Senior Center. Braziel was one of the seniors helped with chores around her home by the Elks Club Senior Home Work Project. The program offers a helping hand to senior citizens who would like help around their homes.-RA ARCHIVE

The elderly population is increasing throughout the nation, and Connecticut is no exception. From 2000 to 2010, the number of people age 65 and over increased by approximately 4,500 in both Litchfield and New Haven Counties, according to data from the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census. People 65 and over now account for roughly 16 percent of Litchfield County’s population and 14 percent of New Haven County’s, according to the 2010 Census.

However, Desmarais said he believed the escalating interest in the Senior Home Work Project was due more to a greater awareness of the program than to an increase in the state’s elderly population.

According to Deborah Stein, senior services program officer for the Connecticut Community Foundation, the popularity and importance of programs like the Senior Home Work Project will likely continue to increase as elderly populations continue to rise.

“The population is aging, and we’re seeing more people wanting to stay in their own communities and their own homes if that’s possible,” she said. “Sometimes a program like this — even though the service seems really simple — can really make the difference between someone being able to stay at home and someone not being able to do that.”