CHINCOTEAGUE: ‘Neighbors’ program helps island’s elderly

PHOTO COURTESY DOROTHY VANSTAVERN Village Neighbors volunteer Bryce VanStavern and Eva Mummert go grocery shopping. Village Neighbors is a volun- teer-based organization helping those age 60 and older on Chincoteague Island with small tasks.

BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

A local group is helping older adults stay in their homes by providing help with household tasks, transportation, social connections, and other small services.

Village Neighbors is a volunteer-driven group on Chincoteague Island, where it is a program of the non-profit Island Community House.

In an area where almost 40% of the population is age 65 and older, the organization is helping fill the gap in existing services.

“In the past, neighbors, churches, and family took care of people, but it’s just not as true anymore,” said Lisa Cannon, Village Neighbors ambassador and founder.

“You can’t hire somebody every time you need a lightbulb changed, and that’s the kind of thing Village Neighbors offers – little things that let you stay in your house,” said David Landsberger, the group’s foundational donor.

Village Neighbors began as a concept in 2021, when founders sent out an island-wide survey to gauge the needs of residents age 60 years and older and residents’ willingness to volunteer for the program, he said. 

Responses were “overwhelmingly positive,” Cannon said. 

The Island Community House took on the task of organizing a Chincoteague Village, using models from other groups in the national Village to Village Network — a movement that began in Boston in 2002 and has spread to more than 300 Villages across the country.

“If you’ve seen one Village, you’ve seen one Village, because they’re all different,” said Landsberger, who organized the software Village Neighbors uses to match volunteers with clients based on services requested and times they are needed.

The top requests are transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and other trips. Village Neighbors has 11 drivers who provide rides of up to 120 miles roundtrip, Cannon said, allowing residents to attend doctor’s appointments in Salisbury.

Close behind are requests for friendly home visits — “just someone to come and chat for an hour, play cards, help order online groceries, help organize closets, or tidy the bedroom,” she said.

The group also provides phone buddy calls to residents to check in and offer assistance with services they might need. 

“A lot of our members have family that live off-island, sometimes three hours away, sometimes four hours away,” said Andrea Canfield, Village Neighbors’ business development volunteer.

“They feel safe with vetted volunteers looking out after a family member,” she said.

When Village Neighbors launched in May 2022, the program had 12 volunteers. A year later, the group has 45 multi-generational volunteers who provide services based on their own skills.

Typical volunteer services last one to two hours and helpers can devote as much or as little time as they want to the program, Cannon said. Volunteers undergo background checks and a two-hour orientation, as well as have a handbook to follow, she said.

The Chincoteague Village has 20 island residents who use the services. Moving into its second year, the group aims to increase its membership, Canfield said.

“When Village Neighbors was started, we determined we were going … to leverage Village Neighbors for the most vulnerable. Now, we want to build that out to the most recent retirees – people who feel passionate about controlling their lives,” she said.

That includes expanding programs to include more social activities and more do-it-yourself trainings, she said.

There is also potential for Villages to grow in other Eastern Shore towns, leveraging the software Village Neighbors established to match volunteers with service requests, Landsberger said.

“This is something that we could help another area with,” he said. “I’ve had people from Onancock and Cape Charles … and other areas say, ‘This is something we’d like to do.’” 

Chincoteague Island residents age 60 and older can join Village Neighbors for $20 per month — a $240 annual membership — which allows them to request 10 monthly services per household. The group also offers shorter-term memberships of three or six consecutive months for seasonal residents or those who need help for a short time, such as during recovery from a surgery.

Membership fees help to cover the cost of running the program, but no one is turned away if they are unable to pay, Cannon said.

In addition to membership fees, the group has successfully applied for several grants and seeks sponsorships to cover its costs such as liability insurance, phone lines, computers, software, and a part-time coordinator.

“What has really struck me is how many people … want to do this type of volunteering,” Cannon said. “It’s very heartwarming.”

“Everybody says, ‘It takes a Village,’ and that’s what we’re hoping to provide,” Landsberger said.

Visit or call 757-336-1993 to learn more about Village Neighbors or to sign up as a client or volunteer.

Visit the organization at 6246 Mumford St., behind the movie theater in downtown Chincoteague, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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