Organization also looks to its many supporters to help complete project

The grant will help update ESI’s home base, a home-away-from-home for participants, on Exchange Street in Middlebury.

A nearly $1.8 million grant will enable Elderly Services Inc. to launch a transformational project later this year, addressing a variety of issues with its 20-year-old building. The project aims to make the facility more energy efficient, improve air quality for participants, and significantly reduce expenses over time.

According to ESI Executive Director Kristin Bolton, the organization has been awarded a grant of $1,785,000 by the Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Grant Program. The grant falls within the Infrastructure Improvement category and will fund a project ESI is calling “Revitalizing Project Independence Adult Day Center for the Next 20 Years.”

Bolton says the key areas of the project will be infrastructure improvements: upgrading insulation, replacing aging mechanical systems, and adding solar panels to generate electricity. “We want our building to reflect our values of energy-efficiency and environmental stewardship,” she says, “while improving our internal environment for our elderly participants and reducing our operating expenses.”

“It’s also part of our values—using creative leading-edge thinking and services to solve problems for elders, family caregivers and employees so they can have satisfying, peaceful lives,” Bolton says. “Vermonters are aging; as a state we need to find ways to support aging-in-place that are sustainable for the people we serve, for our bottom line and for our environment.”

ESI’s adult day program, Project Independence, helps people age in place with the support of a loving community that provides nursing, social work support, delicious home cooked meals, strong social connections and fun things to do. “Our center is a lifeline for families who want to keep their loved ones at home,” Bolton says. “This is a cost-effective, non-institutional model for aging that the State of Vermont wants to support, so upgrading infrastructure for the next 20 years is a worthwhile investment.”

The grant will allow ESI to replace key systems that are reaching the end of their projected life and to greatly improve its energy efficiency. The project has several interconnected parts including insulation of the attic space and sides of the building, replacing the roof and siding, replacing the aging air conditioning unit and propane boilers with a geothermal heat pump, and adding solar panels to the roof to generate additional electricity needs.

Says Bolton, “At the end of this work, participants at Project Independence will experience greater comfort in the air quality as well as the temperature in the building—which can be too hot or too cold due to the current insulation in our building. They will also enjoy our state-of-the-art air filtration system. The frail people we serve are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations and air quality. This is an important factor in their quality of life and their health every day.”

Project Independence, ESI’s adult day center, is the largest of its kind in Vermont and continues to grow since reopening in June 2021 as the COVID pandemic wound down. The organization now serves 100 participants, 200 caregivers, and 250 community members annually. ESI also recently launched a new “Center for Positive Aging” that helps people face the issues of aging, caregiving and memory loss with counseling, education and other support.

“The 15-month pandemic closure really hit us hard but we are growing surely and steadily,” Bolton says. “After 2-1/2 years, we have surpassed 50 percent of our pre-pandemic service levels. However, all our costs have increased: staffing, food, gasoline and repairs of aging infrastructure. This project will allow us to reach our pre-pandemic service levels by reducing operating expenses for our facility and putting that money toward hiring more staff.”

Bolton says ESI is deeply grateful for the grant, which will cover a majority of the project costs. “At the same time,” she says, “we know this is an exciting project and one we believe will appeal to our many friends and supporters. So we will be turning to our community for support over the next several months as part of our overall financial strategy.”

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