How many times a day do you hear the term COVID-19? For most of us, it has become routine; don’t forget your mask, remember to wash your hands and stay six feet apart. But for our hidden citizens, our most vulnerable elderly neighbors, the loneliness and isolation are having the most profound effect on their lives.
Last fall, Senior Connect partnered with Texas Health Resources to begin a county-wide program with targeted outreach to isolated seniors who might be impacted by loneliness. This program allowed Senior Connect to begin several new lunch-time sites throughout the county. Senior Connect has been providing congregate meals in Senior Centers throughout the county since 1978, but with this new partnership, the agency began new sites in Kemp, Elmo, First Baptist Kaufman, and at Bluffview in Crandall. These programs were a welcomed addition as most residents in these areas didn’t have an opportunity for regular socialization.
When the quarantine stopped everything, these participants found themselves disconnected again. Senior Connect tried some out-of-the-box ways to keep them engaged, well-fed and healthy. “We knew we could meet the basic need of food. We’ve always done that. But we wanted to do more. We wanted to meet their need for other people,” said Melinda Polk, Executive Director. Using funding available through the THR partnership, Senior Connect created the H.E.L.L.O program. H.E.L.L.O stands for Helping Elders Limit Loneliness Outreach. Through this program, a senior is paired with a “coach.” This volunteer coach is screened and trained, and the pair begins regular visits.
One H.E.L.L.O participant is Kathy. Kathy had been a regular participant at the Kemp Connect location, where they served lunch and had daily activities. When COVID-19 forced the center to close indefinitely, it left a lot of people feeling helpless. Kathy said she felt “alone and depressed wishing the center would open back up. But the H.E.L.L.O program has helped me stay connected to my friends and family at Kemp Connect during quarantine and allowed me to still ‘see’ (video) people while the shelter in place was ordered. I still felt like I was a part of something. It has helped with my depression, my ability to communicate with family and friends, has given me something to do while I can't go out and do stuff.” When asked what quarantine would be like without it, Kathy responded, “AWFUL! I would be lonely and depressed and out of touch with everything.”
Another participant, “J”, says that the program “Helped me to know that I have people I can count on if and when I need them. They are here for me.” Before H.E.L.L.O. he felt lonely and disconnected. He said “I don’t know what I’d do without it. I use the tablet to video chat my grandkids. and great grandkids and I love being able to do that. The program helps me keep my focus. Quarantine would be miserable without it.”
“We are focusing the H.E.L.L.O program in Kemp, Elmo and Mabank, because those areas have been the most under-served in our county. However, we hope to recruit volunteers and seniors from all over the county. We know that the ‘people’ connection is vital right now and we plan to do our part to keep this vulnerable population connected.”
For more information on Senior Connect and the H.E.L.L.O program call 469-376-MEAL (6325).