Johnson County TRAIL grows, helping seniors age in place

Not-for-profit organization up to 180 members

Barbara Plakans looks on as Jim Ruebush of Coralville hangs Christmas decorations in early December at Plakans' home in
Barbara Plakans looks on as Jim Ruebush of Coralville hangs Christmas decorations in early December at Plakans’ home in Iowa City. Plakans is a member of TRAIL of Johnson County, which connects older adults with volunteers and service providers so they can live independently and age in place. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Jim Ruebush, a retired Iowa City West High physics teacher, has fixed computers, helped with phone problems and properly moved and reinstalled a room full of electronics after new carpet was laid.

As a volunteer with TRAIL of Johnson County, Ruebush, 71, of Coralville, does whatever chores are needed to help another senior remain comfortable living in his or her own home. On a recent Thursday, he hung swags of fresh greenery on the lights in front of the Iowa City house of Barbara and Andrejs Plakans.

“Members get what they need, and volunteers get to feel like they are needed,” Ruebush said.

TRAIL — or Tools and Resources for Active Independent Living — is a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping seniors get assistance so they can age in place.

Since it started in April 2017, TRAIL of Johnson County now has 180 members, said board secretary Susan Shullaw.

Of those, 17 percent are full members requesting services. The top service request is transportation, but other needs include technology help — Ruebush’s specialty — occasional plant or pet care and tricky chores, such as cleaning ceiling fans.

“My husband has some mobility problems so he can’t get up and hang things on the lampposts anymore,” said Barbara Plakans, 78. “It’s very nice to have some additional help.”

Members occasionally have some unique requests, such as gluing together a broken vase or accompanying a member to Hawkeye sporting events.

“That wasn’t up on the board for long,” Shullaw said.

TRAIL is one of just two Iowa organizations that are part of the Village to Village network, a national organization started in Boston that provides guidance and connection to groups across the country. The other Iowa-based program is in Neola, a town of 840 in western Iowa, Shullaw said.

But other Iowa communities have interest, with residents of Waterloo and Des Moines calling TRAIL of Johnson County to learn more, she said.

TRAIL offers two membership levels.

A full membership, which costs $540 a year for singles and $720 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 through the end of 2018.

The Plakanses, who relocated from Ames to Iowa City in 2015, joined TRAIL as affiliate members in 2017, Barbara Plakans said. They became full members a year later so they could access the volunteer network.

She’s also part of the committee that plans social events, which include museum visits, gardening seminars and what they call a “yarning” group that knits and chats.

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