‘Small but mighty’ ElderAct Club seeks new members

The Swampscott-Marblehead ElderAct Club does not sit well with complacency. Members keep busy, living out the Rotarian’s mantra of “service above self.”

The local ElderAct Club, a joint project of the Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor and Swampscott Rotary Club, offers seniors a sense of fellowship, purpose and the opportunity to make a difference in their communities. Founded in 2014, it is the first community-based ElderAct Club in the United States and the seventh in the world.  

From left, ElderAct members Terry Lavelle, Joan Cutler and Dick Auffrie check out a lock box installed on a Marblehead senior’s home in 2015. COURTESY PHOTO / ED BELL

“We have a membership of between 30 and 40 people, but only about 13 to 15 come to regular meetings,” said Joan Cutler, one of the club’s founding members. “The others donate and volunteer, so we are small but mighty.”

In a Marblehead Current interview with Cutler and fellow members Judy Arnold and Linda Maffeo, the trio emphasized that the ElderAct Club welcomes new members and has no membership fees. Cutler and Arnold have been members since the club’s incorporation, while Maffeo joined a couple of years ago upon her retirement.

“When I retired, I thought to myself, ‘Well, what am I going to do?'” said Maffeo.

She reached out to someone at the Council on Aging at the Jacobi Community Center, who gave her Cutler’s number.

“I called her,” said Maffeo.

Cutler chimed in, “And I told her, ‘Oh, we can keep you busy.'”

Maffeo confirmed the club has delivered on that promise.

ElderAct members grow, harvest and deliver organic vegetables to senior housing complexes from the Stramski ElderAct Garden. COURTESY PHOTO / SWAMPSCOTT-MARBLEHEAD ELDERACT CLUB

For a recent project, Maffeo sewed small bags called “ditty bags” to hold toiletries and necessities for college students through a partnership with Salem State University. She turned her home into a production line of sorts with bottles of shampoo, toothbrushes and soap in neat rows.

The ditty-bag project began when members learned that some students were sleeping in their cars.

“Many do not get much support from their families, but they are going to school,” said Cutler.

The club’s projects are not limited to the North Shore but extend nationally and internationally.

“The beauty is we can play to people’s strengths,” said Arnold. “We are dedicated to finding new projects because people want to do different things.”

She added, “We have really tried to stay local, national and global.”

The trio characterized the local club as a waiting-in-the-wings corps of volunteers who help where help is needed. Nevertheless, they say that most of their projects focus on service members, families and seniors.

During COVID-19, members rolled up their sleeves.

“We had to volunteer from home,” said Maffeo. “We kept knitting. We kept sewing. We kept cooking for LifeBridge, and we had to deliver the food.”

Members stepped up to help send everything from diapers to linens abroad during the Syrian refugee crisis in 2017. Some members serve as “reading buddies” in local elementary schools, while others regularly sing to residents who live in assisted living facilities. 

A centerpiece project for ElderAct was getting a lockbox program off the ground, which involves installing lockboxes on the homes of people with disabilities and senior citizens. The secure boxes hold a key inside that gives first responders quick access to the home during emergencies.

“The Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor was able to purchase 40 lockboxes initially,” said Cutler, whose late husband, Hooper Cutler, was a firefighter. “The Fire Department runs the program themselves now.” 

During the growing season, members tend to an organic garden on town property near Stramski Park.

“We are all responsible for its care,” said Arnold. “[Local] Rotaries buy organic seeds and products.”

The harvest ends up in the community rooms of Marblehead Housing Authority’s senior housing complexes.

These are only a few ElderAct Club’s service projects. Others have included: 

  • Supporting the U.S. Armed Forces by providing scarves, hats, personal care items and snacks for deployed troops. 
  • Clipping and collecting coupons to help the families of military members serving overseas. 
  • Sewing additional “ditty bags” for use by medical and emergency relief global outreach organizations.
  • Collecting can tabs for the Shriners patients’ transportation fund.

To learn more about how to get involved, email Maffeo at lindamaffeo@comcast.net

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