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More vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 and increasingly isolated by the pandemic, elders in communities across the globe have had a particularly rough go of it over the past year-and-a-half, making the services provided by local senior-support organizations like Taos Elders and Neighbors Together (TENT) take on a renewed importance.

"As you get older, the wheels start to fall off," says TENT President James Schultz.

Schultz knows this because he's getting there himself: It's easy for the young and healthy to forget that life gets a whole lot harder as you age. Your body doesn't work as well as it once did, and sometimes neither does your mind. It can be easy to lose one's independence under those circumstances. Part of TENT's mission is to help people maintain it for as long as possible.

"The objective is to help people stay in their homes for as long as they can," Schultz said.

TENT is a member organization of Village to Village Network, a national company based in St. Louis, Missouri, which helps affiliates gain accreditation to get set up to provide services to local elders, like rides for medical appointments, help reading and writing emails, staying on top of bills and taking care of pets in the home.

"There are about 300 of those organizations in the United States," Schultz said.

TENT currently serves 50 members. Services are provided by 70 volunteers and a part-time volunteer coordinator, Kate Harris, who is the only paid staff member. The organization held its annual meeting this month and sends out a newsletter six times per year.

Membership for TENT costs $350 annually for individuals and $450 for households, but Schultz said about 25 percent of member fees are subsidized with financial assistance. When someone applies to join, he said a volunteer pays them a visit at their home to discuss how the program works and the financial options available.

Schultz said members can receive up to three services of their choice per week, and he says even that small amount of help can mean many more years of independent living and avoiding the steep costs of assisted living.

"Statistics from the national organization suggest that our services can help people stay in their homes five years longer than they might have," he said.

In a rural area like Taos County, where public transportation is very limited and people can live many miles from commercial areas, Schultz says the services TENT provides are critical to the growing elder population that resides here.

"It's easy to fall in the cracks in Taos, and so we help a lot of people not fall in the cracks," he said.

More information can be found at taoselders.org. Schultz can be reached at 575-613-3123.

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