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Getting to the bottom of GIVES, a volunteer exchange group

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Jean Cook and GIVES banner

Jean Cook manning the GIVES office.

GIVES is the apt acronym for the Greenbelt Intergenerational Volunteer Exchange Service, but it took me some sleuthing to figure it all out.  Thrown by the term “intergenerational”, I assumed it was strictly younger people helping the elderly but that’s not so. It’s for anyone of any age who needs help.  It did arise out of an interest in making it easier for seniors to stay in their homes as they age, but it’s more inclusive than that.

It’s also not a quid pro quo system, where you only get help if you’ve given it.  And there’s no cost for the help given, either.

Jean Cook, shown above in the GIVES office space in the Greenbelt Community Center, straightened all this out for me. She’s clocked about 3,000 to -4,000 hours of volunteer time for GIVES herself, because “This is Greenbelt and we take care of each other.” (Taking care of each other being a notion we’re hearing challenged in our political discourse of late.  Guess we know where Greenbelters stand on that, huh?)  Recalling her early days in Greenbelt in the ‘70s, she’ll never forget that when her home was gutted by fire , “Greenbelt took care of us.”

Jean’s one of the many seniors here who want to stay in their homes.  “My dream is to go from my home to Johns Hopkins” – by which she means her donated ORGANS will go there.

How to Join

Just fill out a “participant application,” and pay nothing.  There are currently 200+ members, of which about half provide help.  They receive space and phone service from the city, so their only expense is postage for people without email (about half of their members).

What Kind of help?

Rides to the doctor.   Regular calls to check on members.  (Jean cites two members who check on each other every day.)  Help with the computer, laundry, light housework , preparing meals, pet care, shopping, yard work, and so on.

How GIVES Differs from other Groups

Unlike the newly forming Greenbelt Barter Network that I heard about at the Labor Day information table, GIVES isn’t for people who just want to save money, and get help in return for help given.  (The Barter Network is a great idea, though!  I plan to join asap and start building credits toward help with tasks I’m terrible at).

Next, how is GIVES different from GAIL, the Greenbelt Assistance in Living program for seniors?  GAIL IS just for people 60 and older (or disabled people 50 and older) and it’s staffed by the city.  GAIL also provides counseling, which GIVES does not.  Apparently I’m not the only one easily confused by all this, as Jean tells me she’s always referring people to GAIL, and GAIL frequently refers people to GIVES.

GAIL also provides rides to doctor appointments – for a dollar each way, via theGreenbelt Connection, which is available to residents of any age.  Rides are provided not just for medical reasons but for any purpose within a 5-mile radius of Greenbelt.

Greenbelt’s a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community)

NORC is the new acronym applied to places like Greenbelt that provide services to people aging in place, and it’s all a big part of why I chose to move here last fall.  My other reasons likewise relate to my status as a senior (though I prefer the term “mellowing Baby Boomer”).  I moved to Old Greenbelt to save money, to downsize my too-large yard, to be less responsible for home repairs, and to live among more people in my age cohort.  More “seniors.”  And not just golfers but community-minded seniors with social consciences.   Sounds like Greenbelt!