South County Beat

Local program pairs people in need with 'good neighbors'

Special to The TribuneFebruary 25, 2014 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Jesse Sostrin is the executive director of Wilshire Community Services; Sostrin no longer holds that position.

Ellis Roth, 99, sits in his Grover Beach living room chatting with “Good Neighbor” Jack Rhodes on Rhodes’ weekly visit. The pair were matched up by the Good Neighbor Program of Wilshire Community Services, which began three years ago.

Roth and Rhodes not only visit but spend a lot of time in Roth’s garage doing woodworking, making items such as lazy Susans, pencil holders and napkin holders.

“Good Neighbors make great communities,” is a maxim of the Good Neighbor Program. The volunteer program is designed to bridge the gaps in services for seniors and adults with disabilities in San Luis Obispo County.

SLO County has an overwhelming need for services for this population: Approximately 37,500 county residents are over 65, and 37 percent of residents older than 65 have a disability. More than 10,000 older people live alone.

Roth also makes clocks and picture frames, using scrap wood and driftwood he has gathered through the years. “I started when I was 8 years old in Bible school,” he said.

After retiring two and a half years ago, Rhodes, a former newspaper journalist, and his wife relocated here from St. Paul, Minn.

“I was looking for something to do,” he said. He was at a San Luis Obispo farmers market and saw a Wilshire Community Services booth. He learned about the Good Neighbor Program and Caring Callers. Now, besides visiting Roth, Rhodes helps out several other seniors with various tasks.

“The volunteers in these programs absolutely get more out of it than they give. It’s very rewarding,” added Rhodes, who lives in Arroyo Grande. “It’s at least as satisfying as any paid job I’ve had.”

Traci Mello of Grover Beach has been director of senior services for Wilshire for almost five years. She said more than 200 clients receive Good Neighbor services that include light housekeeping, yard work, meal preparation and nutrition, laundry, small repairs, shopping and errand-running, transportation, and friendly visits such as Rhodes provides Roth.

Roth worked 40 years at Lockheed where he was in charge of tool-making, retiring in 1974. He was on the Planning Commission in Grover Beach. He and his wife bought their current house in 1962, and his rustic creations are everywhere in the home.

He and his wife were married 74 years; she died a few years ago at age 93. His daughter, Darlene Roth, lives nearby. His son passed away.

Wilshire Community Services comprises several programs: Senior Peer Counseling, Caring Callers, Creative Mediation, Good Neighbor and Clearings. Clearings is a new program that offers professional short-term therapy to clients with symptoms of depression.

As stated in the Good Neighbor brochure, “This is our call to action as a community to help meet the needs of those who remain at high risk due to their inability to safely perform basic activities for daily independent living.”

On May 2 during Art After Dark there will be an art show by Good Neighbor clients, including woodwork by Ellis Roth, at Growing Grounds on Chorro Street in San Luis Obispo.

Volunteers are urgently needed for the Wilshire programs. The next volunteer training is Saturday, March 8, from 9 a.m. to noon. For information, go to or call 805-547-7025.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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