Snow Buddies provide A Little Help to older adults

Nonprofit in need of volunteers for seasonal program

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Laurie Bagan is a do-it-myselfer.

She always enjoyed doing the physical tasks to keep up her home, like shoveling snow and gardening. That is until the 76-year-old Alamo Placita resident, who has been in her Speer neighborhood home since 1974, could no longer do those tasks because of aging and health issues.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Bagan said.

She found herself in a unique predicament. Bagan did not know how to go about getting help or hiring people because she had always taken care of her home herself.

Then, she found A Little Help, and now, Bagan has a volunteer to help her with her gardening and a volunteer to help with snow shoveling.

“It is a lifesaver for elderly people who are trying to stay in their homes,” Bagan said.

A Little Help is a nonprofit organization that sends volunteers to help their older adult neighbors with a variety of tasks — everything from helping to organize photographs and setting up the internet to yard work and dog walking.

The nonprofit was born organically in 2006 when a group of Washington Park residents started doing tasks to help their older adult neighbors.

It was called Wash Park Cares back then, said Jake Dresden, A Little Help’s metro Denver director.

“It grew and grew,” Dresden said.

In 2011, the group officially became A Little Help and got its nonprofit status.

A Little Help eventually expanded and now serves six counties in the Denver metro area — Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, Broomfield and Adams — as well as the Western Slope and northern Colorado. Statewide, A Little Help has about 1,500 older adult members and about 3,000 volunteers.

How it works is a member puts in a request to A Little Help, which the organization’s background-checked volunteers have access to. Once a volunteer finds a request they’re able to fulfill, they accept it and then A Little Help provides the member’s contact information to the volunteer so they can schedule a time to get the task done.

“We try to keep things as local as possible,” Dresden said.

For example, a volunteer in the south metro area typically will not pick up a request that is located 45 minutes away in the north metro area.

The No. 1 core service A Little Help provides is transportation such as helping an older adult neighbor get to a doctor’s appointment, the barber for a haircut or the rec center for an activity. Generally, these are no more than a 10-mile round-trip task and can be recurring or one time.

A Little Help also connects people for care calls or visits for social-emotional wellbeing, which often become the basis for a recurring friendship.

The older adult members will never pay for a service or task. However, A Little Help has a unique model in that members can choose a pay-what-you-can option upon membership signup or annual renewal, which is, in essence, a donation to the organization.

This is something that Bagan appreciates because A Little Help “doesn’t feel like charity,” she said.

Bagan added that her income is a bit too much to qualify for assistance, but not enough to be able to pay for the individual services she needs.

“I’m right in the middle,” Bagan said. “And there must be thousands like me.”

A Little Help’s biggest volunteer need currently is for snow buddies — the nonprofit’s seasonal snow shovelers program.

A total of 150 older adult members have requested a snow buddy, and as of February, 40 of those requests have not been fulfilled, Dresden said. And in Colorado, there’s a potential to get big snows in March and April, Dresden added.

“It’s a simple task that pays off enormously,” he said. “It makes our older adults who are receiving this service feel overjoyed.”

Bagan was already a member with A Little Help when one winter day a couple of years ago she got a warning from the city for not having her sidewalk cleared after a big snowfall.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” Bagan said, adding that every time she had attempted to shovel the snow herself, she would throw out her back. “It was terribly upsetting.”

She tried to look into hiring a snow shoveler but discovered service providers were either too expensive for her to afford or were so booked up that they were not accepting new clients or would be unreliable.

So she reached out to A Little Help and asked for a snow buddy.

Bagan got paired with JK Costello, a neighbor who lives less than 2 miles away, as her snow buddy. He has since developed a routine on snow days: Costello goes to the gym in the early morning, and afterwards, he’ll go shovel Bagan’s walkways. Then he’ll treat himself at the nearby neighborhood coffee shop.

“This is something that, with a minor time investment on my behalf, really helps with independence,” Costello said of snow shoveling for Bagan.

Costello, a physician who also runs a health care consulting company, moved to Washington Park in 2019. He wanted a way to get to know his neighbors and started looking into volunteer gigs that could be done on an occasional basis. Along with being Bagan’s snow buddy, Costello also helps another neighbor with grocery shopping through the A Little Help program.

“A lot of us don’t get to know our neighbors very well,” Costello said. A Little Help offers “a great way to build those relationships (and) provides an opportunity volunteer when it’s convenient for you.”

There are many benefits to becoming a snow buddy, said Dresden, who is a snow buddy himself for a few of his neighbors.

It’s outdoors and it’s great for your physical health, he said, but it also provides a sense of accomplishment and is wonderful for one’s self-esteem.

“Humans feel better when they’re helping other people,” Dresden said.

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