GROTON -- Groton Neighbors is for people needing help and for people with a need to help. The non-profit organization is a network of people in the small town whose mission is to support their neighbors, and in turn reach to for support. The collection of members pay a nominal annual fee in order to access everyday services while also sharing their own knowledge and resources with the group.
Officially launched in January of 2017, Groton Neighbors is a recognized 501 (c) (3) charitable organization whose members are both volunteers and users of the services. Among the services provided are transportation and delivery, handyman and household chores, technical support for electronics and online questions, and social interaction either in-home or as group activities.
"How it works," explained president Bob Lotz, "is if someone lives in Groton and needs a ride, we find them a ride by another member. The same is true of household needs or just some social interaction." For $120 per year, town residents can become members of Groton Neighbors and about 80 people have already done so.
Members who need help call into the central number that is monitored by a rotating group of members/volunteers. The incoming message is then transmitted out to other members in search of volunteers to accommodate the needs of the neighbor. The idea is the neighbors who assist the needy will one day need a service themselves. It's a twist on the pay-it-forward adage but within a finite lattice-work of members.
New members are carefully vetted for CORI background and DMV checks, and once cleared they begin an in-person orientation period with existing members. Once a member, no one pays for services. Although anyone 18 years or older can join Groton Neighbors, the average age is about 70.
"That sense of neighborliness many people can lose as they get older," said Lotz. "Or some people who are new to town need social interaction."
"We are not in competition with any other organizations in town," said Diane Hewitt, the group's outreach coordinator. "We collaborate with interfaith groups, police and firefighters, the Council on Aging, and the public library.
"We're growing organically without much active recruitment," she said. They want to expand only at a rate that they can maintain effectiveness and internal comraderie. "Membership is not subject to a person's socioeconomic condition. And not everyone can contribute equally (in terms of resources) but that doesn't matter. It takes only a willingness to participate, not the ability."
Sspearheaded by Lotz and Claire Macy, Groton Neighbors is part of a nationwide set of interwoven groups called Village to Village. The VtV nexus includes about 350 local franchises across America, with about a dozen in Massachusetts.
"Every village is customized to its own environment," said Lotz. "Working off of the national model, and guided by a loose template," the original operational design by Lotz has been tinkered with to improve efficiency.
The seed funding came thanks to grant money. That went toward the $450 dues to the mother-ship, VtV, and to purchase the software necessary to set up the interactive website. Some administrative costs added to the start-up and finally the application for non-profit, 501(c)(3) status and by October 2016 they became the first Massachusetts chapter outside of the Interstate 495 loop. Launching with just 36 inaugural members, the roster has doubled in the 16 months since lift-off. Membership dues help keep the organization viable.
"It's all about making connections and helping to build a community with people whose paths might not otherwise cross," said Lotz. For more information or to donate, join or volunteer please visit their website, grotonneighbors.org.