ASA Members Embody the Term Communities of Strength

To commemorate Older American’s Month, ASA reached out to its Communities asking for a story demonstrating the 2021 theme of “Communities of Strength.” What follows are a few quick missives from members.

Ashley David, communications and design manager at Senior Services of Midland, Mich., sent this detailed account of a COVID-plus situation:

As with everywhere, in Midland, Mich., when the pandemic hit many older adults became more isolated and at-risk. Between mobility challenges and a greater risk of becoming seriously ill, they were struggling. Then in May of 2020, the situation worsened, when the nearby Edenville Dam failed and historic flooding ensued. But Senior Services found many ways to step up and provide for its clients.

With the flooding came evacuations. The Senior Services leadership team first verified that all employees had been evacuated safely. A few key staff immediately traveled to the main building in Midland to move data servers to an offsite location, while ensuring all computers and electronics were placed on elevated surfaces.

In the days following, our care coordinators sprang into action calling clients to check on their well-being. For clients who needed meals, Senior Services stepped in with healthy meals delivered by volunteers in a contactless manner. In conjunction with the United Way, we began welcoming volunteers and residents to our Activity and Dining Center to retrieve donations of water, food, personal hygiene supplies and cleaning items.

As the pandemic continued, we reinvented ways to offer our services. Our Education & Outreach team offered fitness, support groups, educational programming and enrichment online to older adults looking to stay connected. By August, Seasons Adult Day Health Services was able to invite back clients in need of therapeutic enrichment for those living with chronic illness or dementia.

Meals on Wheels volunteers, many of whom were in high-risk age groups for contracting COVID-19, stuck by our side and continued to deliver meals with little contact, and for when we were unable to provide hot meals our staff and volunteers ensured they had shelf-stable meals on hand to fill gaps.

We continued to transport clients needing life-saving doctors’ appointments and dialysis with the help of volunteer driver Terry Jackson. He went above and beyond to help us further our mission, all while enduring the loss of his trailer to flooding. Despite his home situation, Jackson kept up with his weekly volunteering schedule transporting elders all over Midland County.

Chelsea Mason, director of External Relations for The Eisner Foundation in Beverly Hills, Calif., sent this story of intergenerational cooperation:  

Several of The Eisner Foundation's grantees demonstrated amazing resilience in the past year, and their unique intergenerational approaches brought communities together in a holistic way.

Many, like the Koreatown Youth and Community Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the Motion Picture & Television Fund started or scaled up friendly calling programs connecting younger volunteers to older adults who benefited from such culturally competent outreach.

Others, such as Reading Partners (which helps kids who have experienced an academic downward slide due to COVID-19) and School on Wheels (which provides tutoring and mentoring to K-12 kids who live in shelters, vehicles or group homes) continued to leverage the time and talent of older adults confined to their homes by putting them to work on Zoom as tutors and mentors, breaking down digital divide challenges in the process.

As a result, everyone involved felt more connected to their community and gained a sense of purpose during a time when many felt isolated and helpless.

Also emanating from Hollywood, but this time West Hollywood, Diane Kahn-Epstein, program administrator with the City of West Hollywood, had this to say:

Beginning in March 2020, large numbers of older adults reached out to the City—often for the first time.  In addition to connecting community members to direct services, the City provided information and shared resources, as well as creatively increasing older adult community members’ access to essential items, means to maintain housing, and ways to remain safe by coordinating and funding the following emergency services.

What follows are services and advocacy from West Hollywood that differed from other submissions. The City:

  • Translated the AARP/Governor’s Office/CA Dept of Aging COVID19 Resource Guide into Russian, adding it to the English and Spanish versions on the City’s website, and shared it with AARP.
  • Offered a virtual mindfulness series on resilience, making change and overcoming fear to help older adult community members reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Expanded eviction prevention services for West Hollywood residents, especially long-time residents in rent-controlled or affordable housing units.
  • Increased rental assistance funding to West Hollywood renters ages 55 and older who were unable to pay rent due to COVID 19 issues.
  • Added an additional weekly home-delivered meal program to include more older adults living alone.
  • Contracted with the transit providers to deliver electric fans and bottled water to residents without air conditioning who would have used the City’s cooling centers in Pre-COVID times.

Kathy Steck, founder and owner of DinerWear, which makes decorative scarves to catch spills while dining, sent this note from Suffolk County, New York:

As a manufacturer and retailer of stylish dining scarves, I put our fabric to use by making masks at a time when they were very hard to come by. I handmade hundreds and hundreds of masks and donated them to Meals on Wheels, Focus Hope and senior living communities and providers to protect the staff, which, in turn, protected the older adults they serve. Instead of selling them on the marketplace, I prioritized donations to serve the most vulnerable and worthy demographic—older adults. 

There's nothing more satisfying than helping others. While my business took a hit during the pandemic, I found purpose in contributing to the greater good of helping make senior service a safer environment.

Erin Albers, Vice President of Social Purpose at Home Instead in Omaha wrote in with this birthday tale:

Paula Baughman, executive director of Community Relations at Home Instead in Ravenna, Ohio, organized a community-wide birthday celebration to honor Asa Newman’s 102nd birthday. Newman is a veteran of the Tuskegee airmen—the first African American military pilots to serve in World War II. He is also the only surviving member of his immediate family, so Baughman wanted to do something special.

Baughman engaged the entire community by forming a drive-by parade with city police cars and fire trucks, inviting local vendors to bake goods, and calling on citizens to write more than 100 messages. One card read, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Newman. Thank you for breaking through the barrier for the rest of us!”

ASA is proud to call all of these organizations part of our membership community.

Photo, top: Staff at a senior residence wear masks provided by DinerWear.

Photo courtesy Kathy Steck