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Lifelong Laguna helps couple who don’t like to ask for help – but they’re glad they did 

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Last fall, Michael and Jennifer Morrow*, an energetic couple in their seventies, signed up for Lifelong Laguna’s Aging in Place program, which offers, among other things, free home modification assessments. (Lifelong Laguna is a service provided by nonprofit Laguna Beach Seniors, based at the Susi Q Senior Center.)

They were delighted when John Fay, director of Aging in Place services, wrote up a six-page report suggesting a range of recommendations to improve the safety of their home. 

“We’re pretty independent, and not used to relying on others, so we normally don’t like to ask for help. But we do have some medical issues, and our daughters live far away, so it seemed wise to register as members of Lifelong Laguna,” Jennifer says. “John is compassionate and detail-oriented, and most important of all, he didn’t make us feel ancient!” 

Michael adds, “He brought our attention to some basic changes we could easily make. For example, there’s a steep flight of stairs up to our front door and at that time there was a railing only on one side.

“John told us it would be wise to have railings on both sides, and we needed to be sure that they were rounded for a better grip, and sturdy enough to bear our weight if we were to grip them to steady ourselves,” Jennifer says. 

“Let’s see – he also suggested taping the shower floor, watching out for rugs with curled edges, so we didn’t trip, that kind of thing – most of all we felt so encouraged that we would be able to stay in our home for the long term.”

Lifelong Laguna John

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John Fay, director of Lifelong Laguna’s Aging in Place program

But the Morrows didn’t think they’d need any additional help, though Michael enjoyed participating in the Men’s Group, where issues faced by men over 55 are shared in a confidential setting. 

Then along came the coronavirus

And then along came the coronavirus.

“In the last few weeks, we realized we needed help getting groceries, because our medical conditions make us vulnerable to the virus,” Jennifer says. “So we called John and he set us up with volunteer Sandy Renner.”

John tells Stu News that he has a squad of about 46 volunteers, and after calling each of them individually when the shelter-in-place policies were introduced and assessing their needs, he divided them into “runners” and “callers,” depending on their ability to help.

“At the moment, we have around 100 members. Our volunteers contacted every one of them, and we continue to check in with them regularly to ensure they stay safe and healthy,” John says. 

“We ask what their needs may be, whether it’s grocery shopping, picking up medication, or linking them with our Feeling the Blues program. Feeling the Blues offers donation/grant-funded one-on-one counseling with licensed therapists for anyone over 55 who might feel anxious, lonely, or depressed – or just in need of conversation.”

Michael and Jennifer have twice requested help with groceries and have been “blown away by volunteers carrying our bags and bags to our front door.”

Lifelong Laguna Sandy

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Volunteer Sandy Renner (center) understands the challenges faced by seniors, especially these days

Jennifer, an upbeat person who cannot in this case help her voice trembling, compares the volunteers to foot soldiers in a war. 

“They’re literally putting their lives on the line to take care of us,” she says. “But they are so quick to say, oh, don’t worry, no trouble at all, I was going to the store anyway. It’s…” She trails off, unable to think of words that contain high enough praise, or perhaps overcome with emotion.

Surprises along with the staples

On a lighter note, the couple has been delighted by the surprises that have arrived with the staples that they requested. “I asked for a variety of hard cheeses, and now I have several that I’ve never heard of before,” says Jennifer. “Such fun trying them out. And the vegetables they brought…these days, a good stir-fry is an exciting event in our house!” 

“We had the best asparagus for lunch yesterday,” adds Michael. “We understand now how much pride the volunteers take in helping us out, whereas before we were reluctant to ask for help. It’s a great thing to see the community coming together this way.”

lifelong laguna cheeses

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The Morrows were happy to get such a variety of hard cheeses!

John Fay says the Morrows’ experience with Lifelong Laguna is fairly typical.

“When seniors first sign up as members, they often don’t imagine that they will need help, but they see Lifelong Laguna as a safety net for the future.

“With COVID-19, what seemed theoretical has become real – especially when you realize that something as simple as going to the store can be fatal if your health is compromised.”

Sandy Renner, retired public school educator and Lifelong Laguna volunteer, praises John’s communication skills. “He sends out almost-daily emails with tips and links to resources, which builds trust and a comfort level with the senior community He’s never pushy.”

The Morrows have appreciated the regular contact.

“The emails help us feel so connected,’ they say. “We feel so much more secure.”

Sandy says that volunteering is a joy. “For example, Jennifer is fun to talk to, she’s got a great sense of humor. They’re a terrific couple. After I get off the phone with them, I always feel more cheerful myself.”

Jennifer says she tries to write something positive each day. “I love the growing sense of community that’s happening locally and globally – it’s breathtaking!”

Reducing the stress for adult children

And it’s not just the seniors who are grateful for the regular contact and checking-in to ensure their well-being. 

“Adult children, especially those who don’t live close by, or even those who do, are so relieved to know that there’s a back-up support system, because they can’t always be there for their parents,” Sandy adds. 

“Sandy has been my rock,” says John.

More good news about Lifelong Laguna

Executive director of Laguna Beach Seniors, Nadia Babayi, is thrilled about Lifelong Laguna’s new partnership with Habitat for Humanity Orange County and the City of Laguna Beach to develop a low-income senior home repair program. 

“In February 2020, Laguna Beach City Council appropriated $100,000 from the City’s Housing-in-Lieu Fund to enable seniors to age in place with financial support from the City and coordination through Lifelong Laguna and Habitat OC,” Nadia explains. 

“Home modifications will focus on health, safety, and accessibility for our senior community, and will be accomplished in partnership with the City’s Community Development Department.”

 Lifelong Laguna Nadia

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Nadia Babayi, executive director of Laguna Beach Seniors

John Fay says that the LB Fire Department has done a wonderful job of amplifying Lifelong Laguna’s message. 

“During the course of their work, the LBFD has encouraged seniors who can benefit from our outreach to contact us. As a result, in multiple instances I have been able to connect with vulnerable residents and provide them with support.”

Nadia adds, “We are delighted to partner with organizations who have the same goal as Laguna Beach Seniors: to ensure that our seniors are able to ‘age in place’ in their own homes for as long as possible, with all the resources they need.”

Remember, Lifelong Laguna and its volunteers take enormous pride in helping seniors over 55 – they want you to call. It’s all about our community working together to get us through these challenging times. 

John is available by phone (949) 715-8107 and via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to talk to you about any questions or concerns you may have, and to sign up for Lifelong Laguna’s Aging in Place program. Visit www.thesusiq.org for other useful programs, many offered via Zoom.

*Please note that the couple’s names have been changed to maintain their privacy.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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