Helping our neighbors
How should cohousing residents help each other as they get older or suffer age-related injuries and illnesses? This is a hot topic in senior cohousing circles, sometimes referred to as “co-caring.” The guidelines for such assistance vary by community and may be based on a written agreement or offered informally. PDX Commons in Portland, OR, started a group called the Mitzvah Squad to coordinate help for neighbors when needed. (Mitzvah is a Hebrew word, one of whose meanings is “good deed.”)
The Mitzvah Squad spelled out the following points (slightly paraphrased) in its charter for 2024:
- As residents of PDX Commons, the Mitzvah Squad will provide assistance and support to help neighbors navigate the complexities of short-term challenges. We titrate the kind and length of assistance offered.
- Requests/needs will be met depending on the availability, time and energy of community members.
- We understand that residents will have different comfort levels of accepting help. We will be there for you at your level of comfort.
- Listed are some, but not all, of the activities that could be included in our goals:
- If you are unable to drive, or need an escort after a procedure, transportation may be arranged.
- If you need in-home help – e.g., with meals, errands, laundry and cleaning when you are unable to perform these tasks – it may be arranged in-house or by using an agency.
- If you need or wish support when a loved one experiences an untoward event, such as a catastrophic illness or death, it may be arranged.
- We will provide cards, flowers, or gift baskets to residents as appropriate.
- Mitzvah will keep a list of resources outside of the PDX Commons community.
- All residents: please contact any member of the Mitzvah Squad when you need assistance of any kind or if you become aware that another resident may need help. The Mitzvah Squad will work together with you to assist in meeting your needs.
The Mitzvah Squad has been engaged many times over the past several years. Community members have been temporarily incapacitated, to one extent or another, by accidents, surgeries, illnesses or other crises. How lovely it is to have a meal brought to you, have someone run an errand or go shopping for you, take out your garbage, get your mail, drive you to an appointment, or just sit and visit for a spell.
Spontaneous help, too
Sometimes neighbors offer help on a more impromptu basis. For example, a home accident resulted in a serious cut in a member’s foot. It was all she could do to control the bleeding, but she managed to request help by sending an email to the community from her phone. Literally one minute later, a neighbor – a former nurse – appeared at her door. By that time, the bleeding had stopped, and the neighbor was able to determine that steri-strips instead of stitches could close the wound. Thus, a trip to urgent care was averted.
This is one of the beauties of cohousing, especially senior cohousing where most residents are retired and home much of the time. PDX Commons draws the line at providing help for conditions that may need ongoing assistance and support. In those cases, the resident and/or family can engage outside help to provide in-home care as needed. However, the Mitzvah Squad can point residents and their family in the right direction.
If you have a story about how your community helps temporarily incapacitated members with their daily needs, we’d love to hear it. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch for another article about a different PDX Commons team that has provided important health information to the community over the years.