'It's about connecting': Heart to Heart needs volunteers to serve elders in York County – Seacoastonline.com

YORK, Maine – Ursula Perkins, 83, waited for Jud Knox to pull into the driveway Tuesday, Nov. 23, while she quietly sipped on a black cup of coffee, petted her dog’s head, about triple the size of her hand, and basked in her dining room as light poured in.
“They (doctors) let me have one cup of coffee each morning, it’s all I get to have,” Perkins said.
Perkins was being taken to the hospital for a routine blood test and Knox picked her up at 8 a.m. sharp in his vehicle with a Heart to Heart sign atop the roof. Although Perkins has children, grandchildren and other family nearby who frequently check on her throughout the week, Perkins still uses Heart to Heart, which Knox founded to provide free services to the town’s elderly, to get from appointment to appointment. 
“You begin to feel like you’re a burden after a while, especially when you have one or two appointments every week … they will do it, of course …  but I was interfering with their lives,” Perkins said.
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After Perkins’ husband died in 2015 and she lost her driver’s license a few years later when her eyes could no longer view peripheral surroundings, the little bit of independence Perkins had retained completely disappeared. Now, Perkins is housebound, uses a cane or walker to get around, and experiences dizzy spells if physically active for too long.
“Losing a license is one of the worst things that can happen to a person … you feel so lost,” Perkins said. 
Perkins increasingly felt like a burden to her family as time went on, so much so that she began to experience nervous breakdowns and hallucinations, she said. 
Opinion/Letter:Thanks to Jud Knox at York Hospital
“It was killing my family terribly … this went on for quite a while,” Perkins said.
Perkins’ daughter works six days a week and only has Sundays off, so driving Perkins to an appointment required taking time off of work. Her grandson, a nurse at Wentworth- Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, would often take off work to drive from home in Stratham, New Hampshire, to pick up Perkins for appointments. 
When Knox began Heart to Heart earlier this year, Perkins reached out as soon as she found out about it. Since she began receiving help, Perkins has not experienced a breakdown or hallucination and said she now has a more positive outlook on life. 
Heart to Heart fulfills around 110 service requests each month and has had to deny some people along the way, Knox said. With only seven volunteers, Knox said he needs at least 10 more people to fulfill the requests he’s currently fielding. 
The pandemic has emphasized the reality that older adults are more prone to being constrained and isolated, and need services brought to them, Knox said. Additionally, doctor’s appointments that were postponed during the height of the pandemic are now piling up for people like Perkins, who have multiple appointments a week.
“I have to say no to people and that’s really difficult,” Knox said.
The greatest service need is for rides, which make up 90% of all requests, Knox said. 
“Those of us who can drive easily can almost forget how much we use our vehicles to do everything … and when that’s taken away … it not only changes people’s mobility, it really changes their lives,” Knox said.
Knox will usually drive people to and from their appointments, he said, but Heart to Heart offers a variety of services – grocery delivery, grocery store escort, technology support and any other services a senior may need.
Perkins said she can ask Knox about anything and he’ll try to help. Recently, Perkins said she needed legal advice and Knox directed her to a good lawyer.
Providing services to seniors is a passion for Knox, who worked 38 years for York Hospital and stepped down last year from his job as the organization’s president and CEO. Since then, he’s been researching and talking to experts about how to help aging populations. That culminated in his new venture, Heart to Heart, which opened its services in March.
“We love to talk with kids, they’re sweet, they’re huggable, they’re lovely, they’re funny. We don’t necessarily have that same reaction to older adults,” Knox said. “We don’t have much capacity, culturally, to embrace older adults … it’s really not about driving people, it’s about an experience with another person in the car.”
Now that Heart to Heart has been up and running for several months, Knox said he recognizes the need for more accessible free ride services in general and would like to collaborate with other local organizations to create a centralized ride share service for seniors in the community to utilize. 
Knox said that the best way to help seniors is to just be there and listen. 
“These folks have lived for decades and decades. There’s a whole lot of richness in their lives that they’re willing to share,” Knox said. “For me, it’s about sharing, listening, connecting … and those all occur in different ways with different people.” 
Heart to Heart is based in York but serves people in Wells, Ogunquit, Kennebunk and both Berwicks, Knox said. 
If Knox can’t help, then he will connect you with someone who can, he said. 
To request a service, learn more about volunteering, or get more information, call 207-361-7311 or visit hearttoheartagelesslove.org.