It’s about 11 on a Friday morning, and Archie Daniel and Nancy Holt are at Holt’s kitchen table in rural Orange County near Mebane. It could easily be a gathering of old friends, with fruit, cookies and coffee on-hand, but as Holt quickly points out, this is what she calls “the decision table.”
Daniel and Holt head up the Orange County Rural Alliance, a program assisting elderly and disabled people in under-served parts of rural Orange County with meal delivery, home maintenance, wellness checks, and, sometimes, just a friendly face. Their efforts also give those who might need a little extra assistance the opportunity to live in their own homes for as long as possible.
Holt’s sister, Kitty Bradshaw, soon joins them at the decision table, and they immediately start swapping stories about the people they’ve gotten to know and those they’ve visited recently. Volunteers have assigned visitation routes, and Bradshaw lets Daniel and Holt know that someone on her route has sent word that they want to keep visiting with Bradshaw, rather than being assigned a new volunteer. Though these volunteers may be out on the road to offer assistance, in many cases they and the people they help have become fast friends.
“We try to treat them like family,” Daniel said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“And they think of us like family,” Holt added.
While the population they serve are elderly and/or disabled, what’s perhaps most notable about this program is that Daniel, Holt and Bradshaw are all retirees themselves, as are a number of their volunteers — creating a peers helping peers scenario.
Holt said many of the people they visit have “made do” their whole lives, or don’t want to accept charity out of pride, but the relationship they are able to build often breaks down those barriers.
The Orange County Rural Alliance, or OCRA as they call it, grew out of a program offered by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department called Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (SALT). In 1988, the sheriff’s department began wellness checks on seniors in the county, identifying 72 elderly people and asking each deputy to adopt two to three families, stopping in once in a while to say hello and check on those people. Many live down roads far from the major highways and the cities and towns of Orange County, and are somewhat isolated, Daniel said.
Holt herself was an “adoptee” of the SALT program a number of years back, often seeing a sheriff’s deputy pull in to her driveway with a wave, or to stop to talk.
“At the time, I didn’t know what they were doing,” she said with a laugh.
Today, OCRA serves more than 300 seniors they’ve identified as needing assistance, providing a regular weekly meal, usually in coordination with Gillis Catering, and also coordinating with Hillsborough Barbecue Company, and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough, which provides an additional meal every two weeks.
Though it’s about providing a meal, in some ways, it’s not.
“The meal is secondary to the visit,” Bradshaw said. “I ask how they’re doing; how their family is.”
Among those 300-plus people, the average age is close to 84, Holt said, and that group includes one 107-year-old woman.
While their service to more than 300 residents is significant, Holt said they believe the number of elderly and disabled who could benefit from their assistance numbers more than 1,000 Orange County residents. OCRA does not have the resources or the volunteer numbers at this time to serve that many.
It’s evident from the stories they tell that their assistance goes above and beyond. Volunteers have built 33 handicap ramps to help those who are wheelchair bound. In some cases, Daniel said a family member or friend would have otherwise carried that person out of their house for lack of a wheelchair ramp.
Volunteers also help with plumbing, heating, electrical and structural issues in homes. Bradshaw has given rides to dialysis treatments, or simply to the hairdresser. One couple outside of Hillsborough has no trash collection service, and a volunteer picks up their trash once a week, Bradshaw said.
“We either try to do it, or refer it to another program that might be able to assist,” Daniel said.
And they’re there for emergencies. A woman called them soon after the recent hurricanes, saying she’d had trees fall and no one had come to clear them. They coordinated with Orange County services to quickly get someone out to help her.
They all point out that it’s a team effort, and couldn’t happen otherwise. The list of organizations that pitch in is long, from churches and businesses to Orange County Government’s Department on Aging.
Holt said the take away for volunteers is just as important as it is for those they serve. Elderly volunteers are given a purpose and something to focus on, she said. It gets them out of the house on a regular basis and gives them a bigger picture of the world around them.
Bradshaw is quick to agree.
“We get as much as they do,” Bradshaw said. “It’s about what you get and what you give.”
Orange County Rural Alliance
P.O. Box 642
Hillsborough, NC. 27278
Contact: Archie Daniel firstname.lastname@example.org
How to help: OCRA needs at least 50 volunteers to deliver meals, assist with minor home repairs, build ramps and do basic wellness checks. Background checks are required and training is provided by the Council on Aging. Donations are need for the food and supplies for home repair. Online donations are accepted from www.ocrahub.com, our website.
$10 would buy two hot meals, or fresh vegetables or fruit at the grocery store for an elderly in need.
$20 would buy for hot meals, groceries for a week, supplies for minor home maintenance.
$40 would buy 10 hot meals, groceries for two recipients, building supplies for ramps or repairs.