Providing assistance to senior citizens means more than just driving them to a doctor's appointment or teaching them how to use an iPad. To some seniors, Jane Nyce from Staying Put in New Canaan said, every small gesture is important.
"We do a lot more for people that are more frail, who need help to get through the heavy doors at their doctor's office, taking notes as advocates for them if they can't hear well," Nyce said. "We run errands for people, we pick up medication or grocery store items for them, we do things like home maintenance and repairs."
Nyce, an intern turned executive director, is retiring seven years after she helped found Staying Put in New Canaan, a nonprofit organization that has helped senior residents grow older in their own homes.
She is moving to Maine this summer, where her family has a house and has been vacationing for 24 years.
Tom Ferguson, president of Staying Put's board of directors, said Nyce will be missed.
"She really cares. She loves to help people who need help," he said. "People joined Staying Put because of Jane, they stayed with Staying Put because of Jane and they made their friends join, too, because of Jane."
Nyce joined Staying Put in the planning stage as an intern in summer 2007. It was the last internship for her master's degree in health advocacy at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y.
When it came time to open Staying Put in fall 2007, she decided to interview for the position of executive director. She won the job, and before the official kickoff, the organization already had 90 members. Almost seven years later, membership has more than tripled and reached 330, which Nyce said is more than 10 percent of the population who's 65 or older in New Canaan.
Penny Young, who's on Staying Put's advisory council, said Nyce "got this project off the ground" and helped turn it into "a model nationwide."
With more than 120 active volunteers, Staying Put helps seniors mostly with transportation, health and home issues. At home, it "might be something as simple as changing the light bulb if they can't reach them to helping them find a vetted service provider to clean their gutters or seal the driveway," according to Nyce.
One issue the retiring director has seen as a major concern among New Canaan's senior residents is the safety of their homes.
"We have talked to so many seniors who have said, `I know that at some point I need to move and find a place,' but it is a stressful deal. And the move they want is, of course, to stay in New Canaan," Nyce said.
Many seniors look for smaller houses as they get older, and Nyce said it's critical to find a place with bedrooms on the first floor unless it's a building with an elevator. What's also common among aging New Canaanites, she said, is that they want to be closer to downtown.
"They want to be able to enjoy the town, the wonderful restaurants, the shops, the grocery store selections," Nyce said. "But it gets a little bit harder to navigate. So if they're not comfortable with either traffic, or parking or bad weather, they want to do the walking to be able to get to some of those services."
Staying Put's assistant director, Donna Simone, said Nyce has been instrumental to the organization and to many members with whom she worked closely.
"In this world, where technology targets a younger age group, with respect to all kinds of services, Jane was able to help the seniors access many services. She became like the daughter in town," Simone said.
Recently, Nyce helped a family research different health insurance plans so they could get the proper service and best value. "She helped the family navigate the system with much less stress," Simone said.
Ferguson said Nyce also has done "a wonderful job of building collaborations with all the other organizations in town," such as the Lapham Center, the New Canaan Library, the town's Department of Human Services and Getabout. He said Nyce has been a "wonderful ambassador" for senior citizens' issues in New Canaan.
"She was a key ingredient in our success," Ferguson said. "Without her, it wouldn't have been nearly as successful as it's been."
Nyce, a Wilton resident, said it is thanks to the partnerships with the many services that target seniors in New Canaan that Staying Put has grown so successful.
"There are a lot of towns that are so envious of the kinds of services and the collaboration that we have here," she said. "This town is persistent in trying to make this a really great place for people who want to stay in New Canaan, who built New Canaan, to stay in New Canaan. That is hard to see in other places, in other towns and cities, where there is a lot more territory and people are too busy to try to do the coordination and collaboration."
Nyce will be replaced by Barbara Achenbaum, a New Canaan resident who also has been with the organization since its initial planning sessions in 2007.
"Our new director has a lot of the same qualities that Jane has," Ferguson said. "I hope that we continue the momentum we have and continue the draw the support and membership from the community."
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