By Karen Zautyk
Big things can begin in a small way. As with a knock on the door. And a simple request for a little bit of help.
Since early last year, Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers and his aides have personally knocked on approximately 700 doors to spread the word to veterans about his department’s Military & Veterans Affairs Bureau and the services it offers.
But in the course of their travels around town, they discovered other needs.
“As we were walking door-to-door over the past several months, numerous senior citizens and disabled residents would ask us to help them with minor things, such as tightening a faucet, or putting a frame up, or tightening loose screws on a table,” the commissioner said.
“Other citizens, who suddenly found themselves under medical care and temporarily lost their mobility, needed help with walking their dogs.
“These may seem to be minor tasks to some, but for someone who just had a back operation, or who is suffering from an acute case of arthritis, such a task becomes overwhelming.”
And thus was born the idea for Nutley Corps, volunteers in service to Nutley residents.
Plans for the Corps were announced last week, and Rogers notes that “right now, the project is still in the embryonic stage.“ But he hopes to have the Corps up and running soon after Labor Day.
As the official announcement noted, Nutley Corps will offer interested individuals and local businesses the opportunity “to be part of a network of citizen volunteers who are willing to use their skills, talents, expertise and life’s experiences for the purpose of assisting fellow citizens who have temporary needs.”
We met one such citizen last week, a veteran whose “temporary need” was one that helped inspire the Nutley Corps idea.
Dan Jacoby, assistant director of Military & Veterans Affairs, took us to visit Mike Paolino, a World War II vet, 86 going on 87, who told us that when he got that knock on the door from Rogers and Jacoby, he “was having some issues” with his lawn.
More specifically, with his lawn mower. It was up on a shelf and he couldn’t safely lower it. “I asked them to take it down for me,” Paolino said. “They did. And then they cut the grass!”
He had neither asked for nor expected the yard work, but it was hugely appreciated. “Mike served his country,” Jacoby said. “I’m the new vet, and as one vet to another, I wanted to give something back.”
“Because of Mike’s scenario and others like it, we realized that there were small needs that needed to be met,” Jacoby explained.
Such as the Nutley senior whose garage needed to be cleaned out. And another, recovering from an operation, who needed temporary care for a pet.
Helping could entail something as simple as changing a light bulb in a ceiling fixture a senior can no longer reach.
Most of the Nutley Corps volunteers are expected to assist with relatively small projects, but Rogers — along with Robert De Bello, who will oversee Nutley Corps — are also looking for vols with special skill sets. Carpenters, electricians, landscapers, and firefighters and police officers with such skills, will be needed for more complicated tasks.
De Bello, who retired from the Nutley Police Department in 1996 as detective sergeant, will screen all the potential volunteers and then build a database of the personnel and the needs of those requesting help.
“We already have some fine volunteers working through a program called Seniors Helping Seniors,” Rogers explained in his press release.
“These volunteers have assisted many citizens with minor repairs through the former CARE Committee. They will continue working with us via Nutley Corps. We are now going to bring this program to another level.”
And it won›t be just senior citizens and veterans who can get help; the temporarily disabled can apply, too.
The commissioner noted that “one significant change” from the CARE program is that Nutley Corps volunteers “will not become involved with health-care issues.”
“There are laws that require strict confidentiality with regard to a person’s health,” Rogers said. “This confidentially will be maintained through our health- care professionals. Hence, if a citizen has a health- care need, the Nutley Health Department not the volunteer group, will take of it.”
That includes providing transportation to a doctor’s office or arranging for a nurse to visit a home. Those situations will be within the Health Department’s purview.
The Nutley Corps “is a great opportunity for retired citizens to get busy again,” said De Bello.
But volunteers of all ages will be welcome, and an invitation has gone out to Nutley High School students and youth involved in Scouting.
Once De Bello has finished the screenings and compiled the list of volunteers, a 30-minute orientation meeting will be scheduled.
Any Nutley resident interested in volunteering is invited to call 973-284-4976 or email RDebello@nutleynj.org .
“Nutley has always been known for our spirit of volunteerism in this town,” De Bello told us.
Nutley Corps should offer even more evidence of that.