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Bethlehem helping Bethlehem

The Town of Bethlehem has a history of helping its neighbors.

Borrowing from its rural roots, the town has adopted an attitude of caring for its own, and when it comes to the town's seniors, there is no exception.

Bethlehem Senior Services and the not-for-profit Bethlehem Senior Projects Inc. work together in order to provide services to the town's seniors, but they don't stop there. The organizations also help coordinate the town's food pantry and facilitate programs such as HEAP and WRAP to financially strapped residents.

Karen Pellettier, director of Bethlehem Senior Services, said that originally, the senior services department was a town-run entity that was funded through taxes. That part of it is still around, but has expanded to create the Bethlehem Senior Projects Inc., which is the organization's fundraising arm, and isn't funded by the town, according to Pellettier.

"It all began by word of mouth. Our volunteer core started in the 1980s with just a few volunteers and as our programs grew, the core of volunteers grew also," Pellettier said.

"When we got our first van in 1984, I didn't know how we were going to find drivers, and the supervisor then looked out the window and when he saw a retired telephone guy walking down the street, he said 'There you go, there's one, there's your driver.'"

It started when retired telephone workers from New York Bell, or "Bell Heads," as they called each other according to Assistant Director Joyce Becker, began recruiting each other to drive the van.

"The best volunteers are the ones recruited by volunteers," Becker said.

The department is mostly made up of retirees, but the department also works with the school district and the justice court and gets about 15 teenagers to volunteer each year.

There are still plenty of people in town who don't know about the senior services that are offered, said Becker.

"We are not aware of every person over the age 60 in town," Becker. "So there's a lot of people we're probably missing because we don't even know they're out there."

Pellettier said some of the town's seniors struggle alone because they are very independent people.

"They keep trying to make it on their own because that's just who they are," Pellettier said. "But we have volunteers who are very committed. We have one volunteer who has volunteered over 8,000 hours, he's been with us like many of our volunteers since the mid-80s and he's still here today."

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