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Senior to senior

Solon Senior Support looks to bridge gap between generations
Jace Bell, Jenna Runge, Jill Weetman and Owen Sherman outside the Solon United Methodist Church where they’ve been meeting since November to create a new non-profit, Solon Senior Support. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– They want to make sure senior citizens have the help they need.
A group of Solon High School (SHS) students and a local pharmacist have joined forces for an ambitious project– the establishment of a non-profit to assist seniors with a variety of tasks from a simple visit to tackling technology issues.
The organization they’re forming, Solon Senior Support, will attempt to match Solon senior citizens with volunteers from the community and the high school.
“It’s just basically a way for the community to give back to the seniors that have done so much for us,” observed organizer Jill Weetman.
The group has filed for its 501©(3) non-profit status, established a dedicated phone line (319-624-2773) for local seniors to use and will introduce itself to the public at a community meeting at the Solon Public Library Wednesday, March 27, at 7 p.m.
Weetman started thinking about the possibilities for helping aging residents about a year ago.
After serving as a pharmacist in Solon for many years, Weetman’s career moved to Iowa City with NuCara Long Term Care Pharmacy, formerly Pharmacy Matters. She missed being in the community and seeing locals on a daily basis.
Last March when her father passed away unexpectedly, she began helping her mother with different projects.
“It got me to thinking,” she said. “If anyone who’s older and maybe lives alone, has things that they need done, if you don’t have family in the area, who do you call?”
She did some research but couldn’t find programs like it in a small town setting.
“But knowing Solon, and knowing how special a community it is, I thought well this is one place where it could be done,” Weetman said.
She enlisted SHS seniors Jenna Runge and Tori Jones, asking if they would like to get involved as part of their National Honor Society (NHS) project.
Junior Jace Bell came on board to bridge to the next generation and keep the energy going, and Owen Sherman, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, also volunteered to help.
The group has been meeting Friday afternoons since mid-November.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of high schoolers involved,” Runge explained.
Students in the NHS are required to do a community service project, and the high school’s Silver Cord program requires 125 hours of volunteer work which benefits the community.
When Runge was approached by family friend Weetman, the idea of a non-profit benefiting older residents appealed to her.
“I figured something like this would have a much longer impact on our community, would help a lot more people,” Runge said.
Runge’s grandmother lives in Solon, and her family does its best to help her, but the family is so busy, it feels like it’s not often enough, she said. What about people without family in the area?
“Plus it’s very interesting to talk to different generations, because they have completely different life experiences,” Runge added.
Solon Senior Support will have a request form available online and around town which older residents can fill out with their needs and their interests.
“Then we’re going to try and match up their interests, hobbies and what they need help with the skills and interests of the volunteers,” Runge explained.
Residents can also call the dedicated phone line, which will be forwarded to an on-call coordinator.
Once it’s decided how many people are needed, and whether or not they need to bring anything, the call will go out for help.
SHS students and other volunteers can install an app on their phones which will notify them of a job and they can respond whether or not they can participate.
All volunteers will undergo background checks and at least two will be sent for any task, Weetman noted.
“Our job then is to help them with whatever tasks they need,” Weetman said.
It can be as simple as a visit– reading, listening to music– to home projects like cleaning out a garage or shoveling a drive, she said.
“We’re really kind of hoping in the end to strengthen our community bond through generations,” she said.
While it’s geared toward senior citizens, Weetman said it was likely the group would extend support to anyone in the community who needs help.
Prior to starting work on the project, Weetman visited the Old Gold Diner (Solon’s congregate meals service) and with members of Solon Senior Advocates to see if there would be an interest in the service.
Both Old Gold Diner and Senior Advocates do an amazing job, she said.
“We kind of feel like we’re maybe completing that circle of senior health or senior care in town by going into people’s homes or yards wherever they need help and doing that with them,” Weetman added.
Solon Senior Support will be unable to provide transportation for seniors, something that’s been mentioned as a need, she said, but hopefully the program will grow to the point it serves as a concierge, helping find needed services.
The students have been critical in helping set up technological needs of the project, but they’ve been involved in all aspects of setting up the organization, from filing as a corporation with the state to creating bylaws, forms and pamphlets.
“There’s a lot that goes into creating a non-profit,” noted Tori Jones. “All the logistics. Wow.”
Jones, who interns at the Arc of Southeast Iowa and plans to go into social work, sees the non-profit as a good learning opportunity for high school students.
Senior citizens need help, she said. “They need to know that they’re supported by the younger generations.”
Jace Bell helped fill a need when an older neighbor needed assistance getting his WiFi set up. He discovered he enjoyed helping people with technology issues.
While he hasn’t decided on a career, he knows he wants to do something person to person, not sitting behind a computer.
Sherman is a political science major and has been using his background to aid the group with technology and legal paperwork.
“Working with these guys has been such a joy,” Weetman said of the student volunteers. “Most people don’t think that young people can do these sort of things. But as these guys have shown, they can do so much.”
Solon Senior Support has also been assisted by attorney Jim Martinek, who provided pro bono help preparing and filing the necessary documents.
“We couldn’t have done any of this without him,” Weetman observed.
She said the group is very close to operational, waiting only for approval of its tax-exempt status and a few final punch list items like a volunteer packet.
“Everything’s finally coming together,” she said.
The organization will have some expenses– the phone line, insurance, background checks– so fundraising will also become part of the overall project.
Weetman said Solon Senior Support will seek contributions from local organizations, apply for grants and perhaps even crowd-source online.
“Donations are going to keep us going,” she said.
Interested residents can send contributions to P.O. Box 131, Solon, IA 52333.
“I think Solon is such a special community,” Weetman concluded. “This would not work anywhere else.”