Traverse City News and Events

Nonprofit Aims To Connect Senior Men

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 22, 2018

A startup Traverse City nonprofit is aiming to help a growing population of senior men in the region find an outlet for social connection and community productivity.

The Grand Traverse Men’s Shed is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to providing a “warm and welcoming” clubhouse where older residents and retirees can gather and socialize, enjoy a cup of coffee, and access tools and other equipment to work on community-oriented projects. The organization is the brainchild of Jim Novak, who appeared before Traverse City commissioners this week to explain the concept and seek the city’s assistance in finding a long-term home for the group and raising funds and awareness for the project.

“There is an outlet in Traverse City for retired senior men who may be struggling with isolation, loneliness, (and) possible depression, but also for those men who just like to be social and active but have nowhere to go,” Novak said. He said the nonprofit, which is entirely volunteer-run, aims to “help men connect with other men for fellowship, support, acceptance, a purpose, and improved self-worth” by providing ”a familiar setting…to go which is theirs.”

Scientific research has shown social isolation is a significant contributing factor to deteriorating health conditions in seniors. Men’s sheds, a concept that originated in Australia, have grown in popularity over the last decade around the globe, with more than 2,000 operating world-wide and at least a dozen in development across the U.S. The Grand Traverse Men’s Shed is the first such group to launch in Michigan, Novak said.

Influenced by the concept of “shoulder to shoulder” – that is, the idea that men often don’t “talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder” – men’s sheds provide a space similar to a garage, tool shed, or neighborhood clubhouse where members can hang out, learn new skills, and participate in group experiences. After launching in June, Grand Traverse Men’s Shed members had their first outing as volunteers at the National Cherry Festival, assisting with traffic control for all three festival parades. The group also hand-built two dozen activity boards – using supplies donated by local businesses – for dementia patients at Munson Hospice House. A social outing is also planned on August 29 for members, who will attend a Traverse City Beach Bums game together.

Novak said future plans for the organization include bringing in healthcare speakers to assist members, as well as providing classes on topics ranging from woodworking techniques to healthy homemade meals. Women are also part of the fabric of the organization, Novak said; two of the nonprofit’s eight board members are female. “Women play a critically important role in the creation and support of men’s sheds,” Novak said. “They gave us a whole new perspective of the needs of senior men.”

The Traverse City chapter has been operating temporarily this summer out of a board member’s property on Tibbetts Drive. On September 5, the group will relocate to a new short-term shed at 3171 Lamp Post Lane. Novak told city commissioners the organization is on the hunt for a permanent home, looking for an “empty warehouse-type building or a corner within a building that’s not being used” that is approximately 1,500 square feet and has a “good roof, running water, and heat.”

“Like any new nonprofit, our needs are many,” Novak said. “We are getting ready to start our fundraising campaign, along with a membership recruitment drive.” The nonprofit is aiming to raise $25,000 to cover its first-year annual budget, a figure Novak said would be enough to “help us secure a permanent location and pay utility and associated building costs.”

After Novak’s presentation to city commissioners Monday, City Manager Marty Colburn noted that city and Grand Traverse County officials are in the process of pursuing plans to rebuild the Traverse City Senior Center on East Front Street. He suggested to Novak that the Grand Traverse Men’s Shed potentially find a way to partner with the Senior Center. Novak said the group was open to that or any other partnership opportunities, saying the nonprofit was willing to go “under someone else’s umbrella” or else operate as an independent entity. The important thing, he said, was finding the resources to meet the organization’s mission.

“It is our goal that when your family member or friend wakes up in the morning, he will have somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to – thereby minimizing his chances of becoming isolated, lonely, or depressed,” Novak said.

Photo credit: Grand Traverse Men’s Shed

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