IOWA CITY — Susan Shullaw is a spry 65-year-old with her own strategic communications firm and a beloved home in Iowa City’s Northside neighborhood. But she knows someday she’ll need help to stay in her house as she ages.
Shullaw is part of a group of Johnson County residents starting a not-for-profit organization called TRAIL aimed at helping seniors get the help they need to age in place.
“We saw an immediate need, but we also thought of ourselves in the future,” she said.
TRAIL — or Tools and Resources for Active Independent Living — is part of the Village to Village Network, a national organization started in 2010 in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, that provides guidance and connection to “villages” across the country.
With 16 percent of the population age 65 or older in 2015, Iowa is one of the grayest states in the nation. And yet, Johnson County TRAIL is the first village in Iowa, according to the Village to Village website.
TRAIL offers two membership levels. A full membership, which costs $600 a year for singles and $960 a year for households, includes volunteer assistance, access to a list of prescreened service providers and participation in TRAIL-sponsored social events. An affiliate membership excludes the volunteer services and costs $100 a year for singles and $160 a year for households.
The volunteer assistance could include daily check-ins, minor repairs, computer help or someone to accompany a member to a doctor’s appointment to help with taking notes and asking questions. TRAIL will have special training for medical advocacy and driving, Shullaw said.
“It could be as simple as having someone change your smoke detector, walk the dog or give you a ride to the doctor,” she said.
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More than 100 people packed a meeting room at the Iowa City Public Library last week to learn more about TRAIL.
Attendees asked questions about home health providers, equal use of volunteer services and whether there would be enough volunteers. Organizers said they hope to tap into the University of Iowa to connect with students in nursing, social work and other disciplines, as well as invite community members and more able-bodied TRAIL members to volunteer.
“It’s marvelous,” said Carl Klaus, 84, of Iowa City. “It’s a service that doesn’t really exist in Iowa City.”
Klaus can navigate the steps of his four-level house now, but he may not be able to in the future. That doesn’t mean he wants to move into an apartment, he said.
TRAIL is hiring an executive director and hopes to have 20 to 30 members by this spring, Shullaw said. Over the next five years, they would like to have 100 full-time members and 150 affiliates.
“If we can do this right, we hope it can be a model for the rest of the state,” she said.
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