LEVERETT — The town has a Council on Aging. Does it really need yet another person to help the aging get their needs met?

Yes, there is a need for a service navigator. Residents and town officials know about some of the services available, but nobody knows about them all or how to take advantage of them. That’s what resident Jya Plavin and her partner, Tim Shores, a data scientist, discovered after doing a community needs assessment last year.

“One of the things we learned from almost everyone we talked to is there are supportive services around [but] everyone has this patchwork of knowledge of what services … and how to access them,” Plavin said. “It was just very clear that there is no central way for people to find out what’s available and get connected to what they need. That’s where the service navigator idea came from.”

Plavin, now on the board of the council, and Shores, a member of the Planning Board, based their conclusions on information gathered from about two dozen interviews with town officials and influencers, one on one, and two community input sessions. One revelation was most of the people they talked to rarely talk to each other about elder care.

Judi Fonsh, co-chair of the council, said one finding of the survey was the importance of a service navigator to the Leverett community. She anticipates someone who can develop a database of available resources. The navigator wouldn’t offer direct services. Rather, Fonsh said, the position still needed to be defined and a job description written up.

The work is primarily being carried out by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst School of Public Health, its Center for Evaluation. A $25,000 grant from the Massachusetts Councils on Aging will underwrite drawing up a job description, as well as a structure for the program.

“What came out of that survey was that it would be important to develop a navigator, someone who could really look at resources available to the community,” Fonsh said. “One of the important parts of it was to identify what a navigator is, to create a job description so that we could hopefully, someday, hire someone.”

Plavin, who joined the board of the council in June of 2023 to continue to offer guidance for the program, acknowledged that a service navigator could serve people in other communities. That may underwrite some of the town’s costs, but serving aging residents locally is the initial focus. Plavin said the navigator should appeal to other towns because the services and organizations the new person would access are regional.

“There’s lots of things out there and people don’t know how to access them. One reason is that the services are spread out,” Plavin said. “There’s lots of towns out there that don’t quite have the town center and the services that bigger cities do. It could be a model that other towns benefit from too.”

Plavin commented that while Leverett seniors aren’t forgotten — they make up a large percentage of the population — the town really doesn’t offer them a lot of services. The town’s budget covers only so much. But the services the navigator would seek out are regional, not local, and while local residents would benefit, residents in other towns would also see advantages with a service navigator.

One service that hasn’t been offered Leverett elders is assistance in buying a house. Fonsh said there’s a good deal of money in Leverett, Community Preservation Act funds and the matching contribution that comes from local taxes, that is available but hasn’t been used. A third of CPA money is mandated to be used for housing.

“We have learned that some communities have used … CPA money for a housing coordinator, not just to purchase a property,” Fonsh said. “We have money in town, a lot of it … because it’s so hard to buy properties in Leverett, there’s all these rules around it. So this money would [also] be used for a person who could … figure out how to help people” purchase a property with grant monies.”

The state grant will be expended by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

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