A Little Help extends help during coronavirus pandemic
By Shelley Widhalm
Once a week, 78-year-old Cecilia Bessette gets an important phone call from A Little Help.
It’s from one of the nonprofit’s volunteers checking in on her during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They want to know if I’m OK and if I need anything,” Bessette said. “Their goal is to keep people like me at home as long as possible.”
Bessette, who volunteers herself, called A Little Help after her second husband, Dennis Brutsche, died in July 2019 to ask for help with yard work and the other chores he did. In September, volunteers spent four hours pruning, removing weeds and cleaning the gutters, and since then, a volunteer has come regularly to help with the yard.
“The neat thing is the volunteers they use are amazing people,” Bessette said. “They’re really a blessing to me and a lot of people.”
A Little Help, a Denver nonprofit founded in 2010 that also serves Northern Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley, opened a branch in Berthoud in April 2019 to provide homebound seniors 55 and older with help inside and outside the house and to address issues of social isolation. But as the first anniversary approaches, the branch is doing things a little differently in response to the coronavirus and the March 26 stay-at-home executive order, since it’s considered a critical service.
“What’s going on with COVID is we’ve had to ratchet what we do down so we don’t expose our members and volunteers,” said Steve Courts, Berthoud coordinator of A Little Help. “We have been able to scale our model to provide needed services while helping curtail the risk of the spread of the disease.”
In normal circumstances, A Little Help volunteers provide services for seniors, who sign up to be members of the program. The services include things like yard work, shoveling, handiwork, home organization, light housekeeping, dog walking, odd jobs like picking up the mail, and transportation to appointments.
The volunteers also provide home care visits, which are one-on-one visits regularly with the intention of building lifelong relationships with the members.
“Home care visits consist of all kinds of things. In some cases, it’s going over and talking with the member and seeing how they’re doing and just chatting, having a cup of coffee with them,” Courts said, adding that volunteers often end up doing other tasks during their visits. “Our seniors can be shut-in and not see anybody, so having someone come in and play cribbage is big.”
The calls also help the volunteers, many of whom are stuck at home, Courts said.
“It’s so uplifting to be able to call somebody and make their day,” Courts said. “It’s bringing people closer together without exposing seniors to more risk.”
The volunteers also will go to the grocery store and pharmacy and get the mail and other needed supplies on the members’ behalf and drop off the items at the door, only coming into the house for mobility issues—and the members reimburse them.
“This allows us to deliver to the seniors that need it the most, and grocery stores can work on delivering to other places,” Courts said. “We really want to eliminate exposure of the older members to the virus.”
Krista Markell of Berthoud, a volunteer since November 2019, increased her volunteer hours from four or five hours a week to 15 hours starting the week of March 23 to help with documenting the care calls and other volunteer tasks, she said.
“It really builds a sense of community in town with neighbors looking out for neighbors and people giving of service hours,” said Markell, who also provides snow shoveling for one of her neighbors. “It makes us stronger as a community.”
“Right now, we’re trying to be flexible,” Courts said.
Seniors who want to receive services or those who want to volunteer can visit A Little Help’s website at alittlehelp.org or call Courts at 970-703-3623. Donations also can be given through the website and specified for the Berthoud branch. A Little Help is funded through donations, the Luvesta Frances Jones Fund at the Northern Colorado Community Foundation and the NextFifty Initiative.
“We are in position to help more people,” Markell said. “I know people feel really lonely right now and disconnected. It’s a good time to find those people and connect with them and also provide people in Berthoud that sense of helping. It’s a good time to volunteer.”
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