As COVID-19 stay-at-home orders rolled out across the country, one mighty little nonprofit in Colorado turned on a dime to re-engineer its services and onboard over 500 new volunteers in the Denver metro area, all the while absorbing and implementing new safety protocols. Maybe you’ve seen their yard signs around the neighborhood. A Little Help was an essential service long before the term entered our collective vocabulary during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Little Help connects neighbors with nearby older adults in a support system that enables longtime residents to remain in homes they have lived in for years. Volunteers take neighbors out for an occasional errand or help with light chores and yardwork. Staff provide handoffs to trusted partners when bigger needs arise, perhaps for home health services or major repairs.
It’s a model with roots in the “village movement,” a rapidly growing network of neighborhood groups and organizations where members can tap into a host of services and vetted referrals in exchange for an annual membership fee (often sliding scale). The concept began in 1999 in the Beacon Hill area of Boston and now includes over 300 “villages.” All aim to leverage members’ deep love for their communities and the valuable role they play in it.
Prior to the virus, A Little Help offered a host of services from rides to the grocery store to monthly light house cleaning to large scale Service Saturdays and informational sessions called “Tough Talks.” And because the organization is founded on values such as interdependence, social connectedness and reciprocity, nearly all its programming involved being in close proximity to others.
In March, as news of the virus consumed our attention, A Little Help’s Executive Director Hilary Lenz leaned on her background in public health to quickly envision how volunteers and older neighbors would keep safe from COVID-19 while maintaining the critical lifelines that had been established. Its members would need them now more than ever.
Staff developed a streamlined doorstep delivery system focused on essential items like groceries and medications. They readied for new volunteers: ordered background checks, pre-screened for COVID-19, then mapped and matched people who needed a little help with those who were offering it. They zoomed down to the neighborhood level, making connections as hyper-local as possible. They launched telephone “care calls” and prepped volunteers for assembling Little Kindness Kits full of things like puzzles, books and handwritten notes.
By early June, in addition to the influx of new volunteers, over 150 more older adults in Denver were benefitting from the connection. Most recently, A Little Help has been able to resume outdoor yardwork, in very small groups.
The team at A Little Help watched as new relationships formed and hundreds of elders across Colorado shared back the one thing we all seemed to need over these last few months: a lesson in resilience.
As the village movement unfolds, membership fees have turned out to provide only a portion of the resources needed to keep systems like these humming along smoothly. A Little Help’s revenue from memberships amounts to just under 5% of its annual budget. Fees have been temporarily suspended over the last few months; members have typically paid anywhere from $5 a month to $300 a year.
In addition to the extraordinary value of volunteers (individuals, families and groups of all kinds), the organization relies on grants and gifts from individuals to fuel its efforts across the metro area, northern Colorado and in the Roaring Fork Valley. Lenz named several loyal partners and grant-makers who were able to provide COVID-19 response funding. With the addition of a PPP loan and dollars from the governor’s Help Colorado Now campaign, A Little Help was able to hire two part-time response coordinators to cover the expanded critical services.
As COVID-19 persists, Lenz and her team will be looking for new ways to keep the operation supported. Want to get involved? Whether you could use a little help at your house, can provide it for a neighbor, or have a little extra to share from your bank account this month, check them out at: www.alittlehelp.org / 720-242-9032 / email@example.com
Editor’s Note: The print version of the paper incorrectly credited the photos in this piece. The photos are courtesy of A Little Help. We regret the error.