When 88-year-old Rita Parenteau first got a ride to a hair appointment through Westside Pacific Village, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I had no idea what it was,” said the Westchester resident, who lives alone and recently had to give up driving herself.
Parenteau quickly made friends with her driver, a local volunteer, who even took her on a tour of the marina and later helped her purchase a tablecloth for her picnic table.
“Who else is going to do all that?” Parenteau mused.
Well, as it turns out, it takes a village.
That’s the ideology behind the nonprofit Westside Pacific Village, which establishes a network of volunteers — which the group calls ‘villages’ — to connect older adults to people who can help fulfill basic needs.
Now the organization — which has about 100 members in villages across Westchester, Marina Del Rey, Culver City, Playa Del Rey and El Segundo — is looking to expand services southward, to Manhattan Beach, according to Carol Kitabayashi, executive director of operations.
“The whole idea is we’re trying to recuperate this sense of community where people help each other and our focus is on the older adult population,” Kitabayashi said. Those who “really need a little extra assistance.”
Yearly memberships costs $600 for individuals, and $900 for couples or family of two or more. But for that, village members get access to the volunteer base, from whom they can request services through a phone call or email to WPV. They can also attend one of WPV’s events or programs.
Services include everything from rides to appointments or the grocery store — which includes help unloading groceries — to lessons on how to use technology and help with work around the house, such as changing light bulbs.
“It’s very cost effective because many older adults aren’t comfortable with technology,” Kitabayashi said. “So they wouldn’t use Uber and if they were to take a taxi or Uber to get a couple of rides a week somewhere, it would cost them more.”
And WPV, Kitabayashi added, offers more than transportation.
Village volunteers — who have flexible schedules based on their own availability and are screened through an extensive vetting process — do not provide medical services or weekly housekeeping, but they do provide companionship. They can be a walking buddy or just someone to sit and talk with.
The goal, Kitabayashi added, is to help seniors maintain their independence while combating loneliness, which she said can cause significant health issues for elderly people.
“They’re looking for a way to meet people as well as to achieve some of these routine things,” she said.
For Parenteau, membership in the WPV has been life-changing.
“It’s like my prayers were answered,” she said. “They are there for me when I need them.”
Parenteau added that she has also enjoys attending the many events put on by the WPV, including bingo and cultural days.
“We’re supposed to go see the ‘Lion King’ movie next week,” she added. “I’m so happy I joined. I feel like part of the family.”
Although a village has yet to be set up in Manhattan Beach, Kitabayashi said, step one is establishing the community’s willingness to volunteer. She noted she already has local seniors interested in being members.
“We hear a lot of positive feedback from volunteers about how meaningful their experience is,” she said. “It seems so simple to all of us but to our clients, it’s huge.”
WPV is currently in talks with the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club, as well as American Martyrs Church, in efforts to find that local volunteer base. Kitabayashi said she is hopeful to get a village up and running in the area soon.