Contributed by Lou Ann Pioli

Essex Area Senior Center coordinator

What defines a “good” neighbor? The phrase may take on different meanings for different people, but the bottom line is this: There is a stark difference between being a nosy neighbor and a caring or concerned neighbor. The latter is desired, and for our more vulnerable populations, especially for our seniors who live alone, being a caring, concerned neighbor could mean the difference between life and death – literally.

In 1999, Neighbors Day was created in Paris by Atanase Périfan, the deputy mayor of the 17th arrondissement. Périfan planned this event in response to the passing of an elderly woman in his district who was not discovered for months. Today, many believe that in our current world of constant connection via technology, an event such as the one that precipitated the creation of Neighbors Day would never happen. But it does. And for our seniors especially, being a good neighbor is critical.

So what does that mean? What if you are a person who really values your privacy and would rather your neighbors don’t know your business? If you fell, for example, and couldn’t get to your phone or call for help, would you hope that someone would notice your absence and call for help for you? Most would answer yes to that question. Some folks say, “But he/she is not my responsibility”. Well, yes … and no. The safety and security of our neighborhoods and communities are the responsibility of each of us.

After conversations with some area property managers, police officials, and seniors, here are some tips I can share:

For all seniors, and especially for those who live alone:

  • Make certain that at least two of your neighbors and your property manager, if applicable, have the most current contact information for a family member or close friend who should be notified in the event of an emergency.
  • Provide the names and phone numbers of your closest neighbors/friends to your out of town family members so they can call them if they haven’t been able to reach you.
  • Consider purchasing a medical alert device. If you can’t afford one, talk to your physician or area agency for the aging (i.e. Age Well) for programs that may help you obtain one.
  • If possible, give a key for your house/apartment to a neighbor so emergency personnel can gain timely entrance if necessary.
  • Set up a check-in time with a friend or neighbor each day. A simple good morning or good night call would work.
  • If you are going to be away, notify your neighbors and your property manager so they aren’t compelled to call in a safety check if they don’t see you for a day or two.
  • Consider calling your local police or sheriff’s department to inquire if they sponsor a “check-in” program for which you may be eligible. See links below for some local programs.

For neighbors:

  • Introduce yourself to any new neighbor moving in.
  • Be willing to be that person who accepts emergency contact information, a key, and/or a daily check-in phone call from an elderly neighbor.
  • Pay attention to your elderly neighbor’s routines. For example, if you always see them get their mail at a certain time, or walk a pet, or join you for a card game, and you haven’t seen them, check in on them. If you have reason for concern, call their emergency contact, or notify the property manager if applicable, or if unable to do the aforementioned, call the police yourself. Trust your gut!

For congregate/senior housing property managers:

  • Ascertain that a policy is in place regarding safety checks, and be sure that every tenant has a copy of said policy. Include it with your lease. Post the policy on your community bulletin boards.
  • Check with your local police department on their protocol for safety checks.
  • When you send out lease renewals, include a form for the most updated emergency contact information. Remind tenants via newsletters, etc. the importance of keeping that information up to date.
  • Encourage/arrange events for tenants to get to know one another. Make it a point to celebrate Neighbors Day every June (see links below).
  • Arrange a volunteer committee of “friendly neighbors” to welcome newcomers and show them around (remember the “Welcome Wagon” of yore?)
  • Never disregard a neighbor’s legitimate concern for the safety and well-being of one of your tenants.

For communities, legislators, etc.:

  • Make it a priority to take care of our elderly population. Most of them have worked hard their entire lives to build our communities to what they are today. Honor their wisdom and hard work.
  • Advocate for things like mobile alert devices to be covered under health insurance. Vermont has one of the largest “graying” populations in our country. Mobile alert devices are not a luxury; they are a necessity for a growing number of Vermonters.
  • Encourage participation in Neighbors Day. Have resources available for those who would like to have an event but aren’t sure where to start. (See links below.)
  • Consider funding and/or incentives for local check-in programs such as South Burlington Police Department’s “Project Good Morning” or Colchester Police Department’s “Hello. How Are You?”
  • See links below for information on these two programs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every community across the state had a program similar to these?
  • Remember, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

For more information on Neighbors Day, visit www.neighborsdayvt.org or www.facebook.com/neighborsdayvt. Learn more about SBPD’s Project Good Morning at bit.ly/2NHoXxm  and Colchester PD’s “Hello. How Are You?” at  bit.ly/2JOBiO4. For information on Essex Area Senior Center, call 876-5087 or visit www.essexvtseniors.org.