GHSS responds to activity dearth

  • Senior coordinator Pat Mathison (second from right) hugs Joan Martino (right) as GHSS gets ready for their trip to the Christmas Shop on April 17. Geoff Forester / Concord Monitor

  • left to right Marilyn McGowan, Pat Mathison, Liz Gagne and Joan Martino. Geoff Forester—Concord Monitor

Monitor staff
Published: 4/22/2019 1:28:14 PM

It was seven years ago when Pat Mathison decided something had to be done about a glaring need.

After working in senior programming in Henniker, Mathison saw there just wasn’t any opportunities for the aging in Hillsborough. Then she realized the same could be said about many of the surrounding towns.

So Mathison leaned on some people she knew could help her get something off the ground. The first meeting included six people at Fuller Public Library, and soon Greater Hillsborough Senior Services was born.

“I just wanted to talk about what was needed, what was wanted,” said Mathison, who is the president of the board of directors. “So I wrangled a whole bunch of people to see if we could get this going.”

Chuck Gaides had worked with Mathison on a number of things over the years, so he was one of the first ones she called.

“She said she wanted to talk about senior stuff and that she thought I should be there,” Gaides said.

Despite not having any money or a place to call home, the group was steadfast in its quest to provide trips, exercise groups and crafts for the older residents of not just Hillsborough, but the towns around it.

“At the beginning we had diddly squat and no money,” Gaides said. “So we leaned on a lot of people around here, too many to list. And they were receptive because they knew it was a need.” Gaides has been on the board of directors since the beginning.

They started talking about what those needs were and how they could provide programming that interested a wide range of people. And over the years “we’ve tried everything,” Mathison said.

The first newsletter went out to 102 people, now there are more than 600 on the list, including folks from Deering, Washington, Bennington, Antrim, Windsor and Peterborough.

“It was a large population that needed services,” Mathison said.

The most popular activities offered are by far the bus trips. Just this month the organization has provided a group ride to the Walker Lecture series in Concord, shopping outings to Trader Joe’s and the Christmas Tree Shop, as well as grocery stores. The final trip for April is to the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover.

Since many participants don’t drive, the goal of the bus outings is to offer a mixture of entertainment and necessity. They always meet at the parking lot at Shaw’s and most of the trips involve a meal stop.

Lee Avery retired in 2013 and needed something to do. So she started by going to a couple programs and really found great enjoyment in all of it.

Soon she started doing whatever she could to help and it got to the point a few years ago that she joined the board of directors.

“I enjoy helping out and it’s a worthwhile group,” Avery said.

Mathison said for many seniors, the excursions might be the only time they get out of the house that week, so making it fun and meaningful is a top priority. For many years, the group has been relying on a 2008 bus they purchased used to get around, but thanks to a fundraising campaign, Greater Hillsborough Senior Services just recently signed all the paper work for a new 2018 vehicle that will better serve their needs and eliminate the concern for costly repairs.

In all, the new bus cost more than $72,000 and will be ready for use in the next month or two, once all the customizations have been made. The fundraising was so successful that the group had an extra $5,000 left over after writing the check. It shows how far they’e come considering for the first year and a half they borrowed a Hillsborough town van that was mostly used for kids summer camps.

“We worked around it because it’s all we had,” Gaides said. “But it became quite obvious we needed a bus of our own so we started fundraising.”

But that’s how they’ve gotten just about everything done since that first meeting in 2012. They’ve asked for a lot over the years and it always seems that someone is willing to step up and help.

Since there isn’t a community center in town, they use local churches for activities like yoga, quilt tying and bingo. The every other week senior luncheon resembles quite the party because of all the folks that attend. It’s not easy, but they make it work because it’s about the seniors that really need these groups to stay active.

“The point is to provide something for elderly people to do. To keep them from being shut it,” Avery said. “And now we’re trying to get more people involved, younger people involved because there are still people out there that don’t know exactly what we do.”

In addition to the exercise and crafting groups, GHSS also brings in Concord Regional VNA for classes, informational sessions and flu shot clinics. They’ve also done workshops on Medicare, funeral planning and just about anything else you could think of.

A lot of what they do is free, with the exception of the luncheons and the trips, which they only charge to help cover expenses.

“We try to make the prices very reasonable so anyone can go,” Mathison said.

Mathison occasionally hosts a mystery trip where no one knows where the bus will go.

“Some of our people are very adventurous, but won’t go by themselves,” she said. “So our goal is to offer things so they can be with other people.”

Now that the new bus has been paid for and will soon be in service, Mathison said the next big goal for the group is to get to work on a plan for a community center that can not only be used by GHSS, but anyone in town that needs a space.

“Its been very frustrating at times, but we’ve made it work,” Mathison said.

It’s a lofty endeavor, but that’s nothing new for this group. Starting the organization was a similar up hill battle, and that turned out better than anyone could have ever expected.

“We’ve had a lot of dedicated people who have given up their time, their money and their knowledge,” Gaides said. “We’ve come a long way.”

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