When Gov. Larry Hogan ordered Marylanders to stay at home, members of the Jewish Council of Aging’s Kensington Clubs found themselves isolated with nothing to do.
It has been hard on everyone, but more so for Gorlitz Kensington Club members, who are senior adults in the early stages of diagnosed memory loss. Some live with their spouse or other family members. Still others live in group homes or assisted living facilities.
All are isolated, lacking needed stimulation and missing the four hours a day they spent at one of the clubs that are located in Rockville, Germantown and Silver Spring. There they socialized, exercised, played games, did art projects and ate together.
However, thanks to Colleen Kemp, director of JCA’s social adult day programs, and her caring staff, these senior adults feel less isolated through KC Phone Pals. Volunteers, young and old, make weekly – and often more frequently – phone calls to chat and stimulate the now-isolated seniors.
Since March 23, some 32 volunteer callers have made more than 400 friendly phone calls. I am one of those callers and a part time employee at JCA.
Kemp tells the callers, “You might be the person the VIP spends the most time with this week! Be creative…offer to read a poem, sing a song, play a song on an instrument, read a verse or short excerpt from a book, tell a joke, read the weather report from the paper….does your dog or cat greet on command?”
Sharon Shi, a volunteer in the KC Thome Club at the Germantown Community Center, considers the people she calls a part of her family.
Thanks to these calls, “I think I am a kinder person. It’s brought out just the best in me.”
Sometimes she starts her phone call by telling the person to look out the window and talk about nature. The conversation just flows from there, said Shi, who calls a different person four days a week.
On the fifth day, Fridays, she calls family members, neighbors and friends who are isolated. It never would have occurred to her to make these regular calls if she hadn’t become a phone buddy, she said.
Kim Finkel was a volunteer with JCA’s Heyman Interages Center, helping second graders improve their reading, but the novel coronavirus closed the schools and her mentoring program.
She heard about the Phone Pals program but was reluctant to sign up. Her mother had dementia and died four years ago.
“I’ve always kind of shied away from doing anything with seniors, because it’s kind of painful to me,” Finkel said.
But she gave it a try and now she and a woman who lives in a small group home are phone buddies, talking five to 20 minutes twice a week. “It just feels like it’s kind of meant to be.”