Dean Kahn

How Bellingham seniors can get help to stay in their homes longer

Bellingham At Home volunteer Lorraine Barnes at her home in Bellingham Tuesday, May 17, 2016. The new program, which relies heavily on volunteers, helps seniors stay in their homes longer.
Bellingham At Home volunteer Lorraine Barnes at her home in Bellingham Tuesday, May 17, 2016. The new program, which relies heavily on volunteers, helps seniors stay in their homes longer.

At age 67, Lorraine Barnes of Bellingham leads an active life, but she lives alone and knows that one day she’ll need help maintaining her house and getting around.

That’s a big reason she supports Bellingham At Home, a new program that starts June 1 to help local seniors stay in their homes longer so they can forestall the need and expense of moving to a care facility.

Barnes, a retired flight attendant with Air Canada, has enrolled to become an early member of Bellingham At Home, and plans to become a volunteer to help other members. Volunteers typically provide rides to seniors, pay social visits, do light housecleaning and yard work, and help run the program.

Barnes doesn’t need help herself right now, although occasional rides to the airport would be nice and she does have a gate that needs fixing.

“The older I get, maintenance definitely becomes an issue,” she said. “I’m aware there will be a time I won’t be able to do those things any longer.”

Such programs also offer social activities, and vet businesses and professionals helpful to seniors.

Signing up

Bellingham At Home is part of a national, grass-roots movement. There are nearly 200 so-called “village” programs in the U.S. and other countries, with nearly that many in development, according to Village to Village Network, a national clearinghouse.

Bellingham At Home is a program of the Whatcom Council on Aging, with an office open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at Bellingham Senior Activity Center. The program will have a soft opening June 1 with limited services, and will fully open July 1.

“We have a very dynamic group,” said Richard Abbott, a member of the program’s leadership council. “There’s just a general feeling that we’re on track.”

The program is generally for people 50 and older who live in Bellingham and adjacent neighborhoods, such as Geneva and Tweed Twenty. People under 50 can apply if they need the services.

There’s just a general feeling that we’re on track.

Richard Abbott, Bellingham At Home

People who join before July 1 can lock in the initial membership fee of $350 a year for the first three years.

The average annual fee for such programs across the country is $430 for individuals, according to a 2012 national survey. Grants, fundraisers and donations are other common sources of money.

The Bellingham program hopes to have 50 members by the end of this year, and another 20 to 30 next year, with a long-term goal of 100 members, Abbott said.

Along with access to services, vetted businesses, and social activities, members can play a role in deciding what services and activities are offered.

“So much what the village will be like will be determined by the needs of the members,” Barnes said.

Vetting volunteers

Village programs rely heavily on volunteers to provide services to members.

Volunteers are really the heart of the organization.

Barbara Evans, Bellingham At Home

Would-be volunteers undergo criminal background checks, and volunteer drivers must be 25 or older and also undergo a driving background check. Bellingham volunteers pay to be vetted; $17 for the criminal check and another $18 for the driving check. Financial aid is available to help people with those costs.

Training for volunteers in Bellingham is free and already underway.

“Volunteers are really the heart of the organization,” said Barbara Evans, who works on volunteer recruitment and training. “Right now we are just trying to get off the ground and start functioning.”

Popular services provided by volunteers include driving members to doctors and stores; helping with minor chores around the yard and home; and helping with computers and phones. For more complicated jobs, members are referred to vetted companies and professionals.

“It depends on the skillset of our volunteers,” said Riana Nolet, program director at PNA Village in the north Seattle neighborhood of Phinney Ridge. “We have some that are much more handy than others.”

The Bellingham program, like others, also plans to offer cultural and educational activities for members, along with classes, dances and other activities already on tap at Bellingham Senior Activity Center. Such activities can help reduce seniors’ isolation from the broader community.

Likewise, volunteers can benefit from reaching out to help others.

“I think there are lot of people who would benefit from having a sense of purpose,” Barnes said. “It’s more than just, ‘What can this do for me?’”

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Bellingham At Home

Next information meeting: 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, at Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St.

Contact: 360-746-3462 or

Online: Go to and click on “Bellingham at Home


People who join Bellingham At Home before July 1 can lock in the initial membership fee of $350 a year for the first three years. People who join after that pay $350, but their annual fee could go up later. The fee is projected to rise to $450 in 2017 and to $550 in 2018.

There’s also a $50-per-year fee for each additional member in a residence. Membership in Bellingham includes membership in Bellingham Senior Activity Center, which normally charges $38 a year.

People also can become “associate members,” at half the cost, for access to social events, vetted businesses, and membership in the senior center, but they don’t receive volunteer services. Associate members do not have to live in Bellingham.