MAPLE CITY — Aging in place is more than theory to Pam Bradshaw.

The retired nurse midwife spent nine years helping her elderly parents retain autonomy. She now volunteers for ShareCare of Leelanau, Inc. assisting older adults maintain independence.

“So many of us want to age in place, but when you hit 90 or so, without support it’s terribly difficult,” Bradshaw said.

Assistance is especially important in the COVID-19 era of isolation. Bradshaw has served for the past year as ShareCare friend and helper to Rosalind Ryant. The petite 90-year old Maple City resident was a competitive ballroom dancer in times past. She faces the challenge of forced seclusion and the toll of years.

Ryant viewed her 90th birthday as a mixed blessing.

“It’s good in some ways and not so good in others,” she said.

When coronavirus accentuated Ryant’s need for support, Bradshaw helped her move from her home of 40 years to a senior living facility. Ryant left the trophies behind bringing to her new space only a single photograph to remind her of her dancing days.

Bradshaw’s first visit to Ryant at her new location tore at her heart. “I went up to the window and waved,” she said. “It was very sad. Those people had been in their rooms for months.”

Bradshaw added furniture shopping to her list of activities helping Ryant which includes grocery and pharmacy runs. She calls her regularly for a friendly chat and when the big birthday came around, Bradshaw organized a drive-by birthday party for the senior.

“I have been moved by how she can still giggle and find the good in things,” Bradshaw said.

Ryant is in the company of an increasing number of aging fellow citizens.

Bradshaw points out that Leelanau County is home to 8,600 people 60 and older, accounting for 43 percent of the county’s population.

ShareCare was founded in 1994 under a membership model and reintroduced as an open model in 2019 to better fill the gap left by other organizations serving the county’s older adults.

“What ShareCare brings to the table is over 100 volunteers who work a variety of hours” said Julie Tarr, ShareCare executive director. “We provide what most health providers do not.”

Volunteers in 2019 provided over 1,000 services to 500 people. Services included medical rides, grocery deliveries, personal visits, handyman and gardening services, meals, phone visits and more. But COVID-19 has limited the organization’s ability to provide social engagement activities.

“We’re hoping we can get back to full service as quickly as we can,” Tarr said.

ShareCare moves forward in part thanks to $100,000 in grant funding.The organization was one of 20 innovative community programs in the country selected by the national Community Care Corps to receive $52,000 for the period August 1, 2020 through July 31. 2021.

The funds target expansion of ShareCare’s phone reassurance program.

“There’s a lot of loneliness,” Tarr said. “Just having someone check in and having a conversation gives them peace of mind.”

A $48,000 grant from the 2020 Michigan Health Endowment Fund supports a cost/benefits analysis of aging in place and will quantify ShareCare volunteer services. Tarr said results will guide the ShareCare’s efforts to strengthen partnerships with other organizations key to the care and well-being of Leelanau’s elder community.

To request service or volunteer, call ShareCare at 231-256-0221.

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