LENOX — Villages of the Berkshires, a Lenox-based nonprofit, plans to use a $76,737 grant to help set up a volunteer program to assist Berkshire County local family caregivers, older adults and people with disabilities.

Aid for seniors over 60 includes visits or companionship, local transportation, shopping, errands, basic home maintenance and respite care. Also available is technology support to help individuals stay connected to family, friends, community and faith-based organizations, and medical providers.

The funding is from from Community Care Corps, established by the federal Administration for Community Living, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant enables Villages of the Berkshires to build and train a base of local volunteers in partnership with Berkshire Community College and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at BCC.

By this fall, the program is projected to assist up to 50 eligible recipients in Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge and Pittsfield, with plans to expand in the near future to Alford, Egremont, Great Barrington and Sheffield, according to Carl Shuster, vice president of the group.

The goal by 2021 is to help several hundred people, Shuster told The Eagle in a phone interview.

"After more than two years of effort in organizing Villages of the Berkshires and being set back by the unforeseen restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is being launched to serve the everyday needs of older Berkshire residents who make up over 40 percent of the county's population," said Howard Shapiro, president of the local nonprofit, in a prepared statement.

"The Villages is pushing forward so that we are in a position to increase our services when and as applicable state protocols for the COVID-19 virus allow," he added. "We are pleased that the Community Care Corps grant supported our proposal for what they recognized as a uniquely collaborative program with BCC designed to both establish a broad-based program of trained OLLI member volunteers as well as college and high school student volunteers, and to provide service learning opportunities for BCC student participants."

The funding from Aug. 1 through July 31, 2021, is from the Oasis Institute, which administers Community Care Corps in conjunction with three partner agencies, Caregiver Action Network, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Altarum.

"This unprecedented program is a momentous leap forward in facilitating older adults, persons with disabilities, and family caregivers with much-needed non-medical assistance," Shuster stated. "The aid will benefit countless local individuals and families, generating a lasting impact on those served, as well as the volunteers serving our community."

Volunteers must be 18 and older and pass a required criminal background check, according to the Community Care Corps website. Medical, administrative or financial services are not provided to the individual aid recipients and family caregivers.

Villages of the Berkshires intends to recruit up to 50 well-trained volunteers within the next six to eight months, Shuster said. "We're starting out on a deliberate way, so as not to get ahead of our skis," he said, citing the impact of COVID-19.

Most of the grant funding will be used to hire a four-day a week coordinator to implement the program with BCC and OLLI, he noted. The grant will also help support the services of Villages' program director, Carolyn King.

The Community Care Corps defines a family caregiver as an unpaid family member, foster parent, friend, neighbor or other unpaid adult who provides in-home monitoring, management, supervision or treatment of a child or older adult.

"In this era of great need and rising challenges for frail older adults, people with disabilities, and their families, interest in and response to this new program has been absolutely overwhelming across the country," said Oasis Institute President Paul Weiss.

National Community Care Corps grants totaling $2,440,000 were awarded to 23 urban, suburban, rural, frontier, and tribal communities nationwide from Maine to Alaska.

Competing for the awards were 183 organizations from 45 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico which applied for $23 million.

The grants are designed to aid Americans requiring nonmedical help to continue living in their homes. Many also need companionship to combat the effects of isolation, Shuster stated. "Volunteer support is vital for individuals to maintain the ability to live independently and stay connected within their communities," he said.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at 413-637-2551 or cfanto@yahoo.com.