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COVID-19 and Senior Volunteering: To Serve or Not to Serve?

Guest blog by Lauren Lamin, Program Coordinator, New Jersey’s Foster Grandparent Program

The onset of the pandemic hit NJ’s Foster Grandparent Program hard. The novel coronavirus was particularly concerning to our program because according to public health officials, two of the most vulnerable groups at risk were seniors aged 65 and older and school-age children. Unfortunately, those also happen to be the core segments of our program’s demographics…

New Jersey’s Foster Grandparent Program (NJ/FGP), part of AmeriCorps Seniors, provides low-income senior residents, ages 55 and up, with the opportunity to work one-on-one as mentors and role models to children with special or exceptional needs.

Volunteers, who must be retired and/or receiving Social Security, do this work in classrooms or institutionalized settings throughout the state. Income eligibility (200% under the federal poverty line), criminal history and background checks are required for volunteers to serve, and they receive a tax-free stipend of $3 an hour. Travel reimbursement, free breakfast and lunch provisions, supplemental accident and liability insurance and an annual award-recognition event are some of the program benefits.

Foster Grandparents support schools and community needs related to children where traditional services are not available, such as encouraging socialization, modeling appropriate behaviors and skills, assisting in the development of motor and learning skills, tutoring, listening, talking, singing, walking and reading.

THE PANDEMIC

In March, the new reality of pandemic-related lockdowns, social distancing and limits on travel and gatherings were put in place as safety measures by Gov. Murphy’s executive orders. Such measures kept our Foster Grandparent volunteers at home and off duty.

Major fears for our volunteers escalated because many were afraid or not able to leave their homes, even to shop for food. And a few of our volunteers suffer from food insecurities and isolation.

HELP AND KEEPING CONNECTED

My colleagues and I made weekly phone checks to our volunteers, home visits to drop off food to those in need and ran errands as a courtesy to those who expressed a need. We also completed monthly conference calls to keep all of our volunteers connected to the program and each other.

Fortunately, the national office of AmeriCorps Seniors has made it possible to continue monthly stipends during this period by providing a COVID-19 allowance until December 31, 2020. Many of our volunteers have come to rely on these stipends.

BACK TO SERVICE

Now that some of the Governor’s executive orders, COVID curfews and closure restrictions are lifting, and some schools have re-opened, we are working to transition our volunteers back into service. A number of our volunteers remain concerned about the potential risks that COVID-19 may have on their health, and we’re concerned for them as well. Nonetheless, the majority cannot wait to go back to their sites. They love and miss working with the children.

Our pathway back to service includes practicing social distancing, using required personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking on new permissible service roles.

DIGITAL DIVIDE

COVID-19 thrusted our senior volunteers into the virtual world. Many of our older adults were not very “tech-savvy” and nervous about all things web-related. Right away, we saw first-hand how Foster Grandparents were deeply affected by the digital divide. Our volunteers not only lacked the knowledge of how to use technology, but they also lacked the equipment and access to the internet.

As a team, we developed a few solutions to address this issue, starting with training. We now have a mandatory “Computing 101” course that includes setting up WiFi, how to log in and how to use Zoom. We have also teamed up with CyberSeniors, a national organization whose mission is to bridge the digital divide, and Rutgers Extension to provide online training content and services.

Besides virtual engagement with the students during the coronavirus, our volunteers have been packing and delivering lunches to students in local NJ communities and serving as School Greeters to walk students to their classrooms, because parents are no longer allowed in school buildings. Those volunteers who are more tech-savvy are helping as in-person guides and assistants to students learning virtually at home or in the classroom.

GREAT GRANNIES!

Foster Grandparents join the program to give back to communities and offer their time, wisdom and unique skills. We are so pleased that NJ FGP volunteers are able to continue to serve children and their families throughout this pandemic.

It is quite rewarding to see our volunteers in their “second act” of life learning new skills and becoming essential resources. “Volunteers add positivity, care, and warmth that the children in our center need to thrive,” Program Director Pat Staltari says. “The volunteers give that extra love and attention that many of our students are not receiving at home. We love our grannies!”

When you volunteer, you’re not just helping others — you’re also helping yourself. Volunteering leads to new discoveries and new friends. Additionally, in a two-year AmeriCorps Seniors study completed in 2018, 85% of participants said that volunteering helped stabilize or improve their health. Plus, 88% of the volunteers said that they felt less isolated and now have a new purpose in life. Other research shows that volunteering helps you live longer and promotes a positive outlook on life. Join us!

For more information on NJ’s Foster Grandparent Program, and to meet guest blogger Lauren Lamin and Grandma LuLu, one of her volunteers, watch Aging Insights, Episode 110 on NJFA’s YouTube channel.

Lauren Lamin (left) is a Program Coordinator with the New Jersey Foster Grandparent Program (NJ/FGP), an AmeriCorps Seniors program. NJ/FGP is sponsored by NJ Department of State, Governor’s Office of Volunteerism (GOV). Donna Teel is NJ/FGP Director and Rowena Madden is Executive Director GOV. For more information, visit https://nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps, follow @VolunteerNJ on Facebook, and email Lauren at lauren.lamin@sos.nj.gov.

Aging Insights #Roadto100

As we begin to think about the start of a new year, we also get ready to show the 100th episode of Aging Insights! In honor of this major achievement, we thought we’d take a few moments to familiarize you with Aging Insights (if you’re not already), and tell you a little about what’s in store for Aging Insights this year and beyond. 

NJFA’s mission is to provide leadership in public policy and education to enable New Jersey older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities. And one of our primary goals is to be an information source for older adults and those who care for them to gather information that helps them live independently.

Now that you know that, you might be asking how does NJFA accomplish that?

Well, for starters, right here at this blog and on our website where we provide informative articles and links to resources.

We also aim to connect you to programs, services and trending issues through our TV program, Aging Insights. Never heard of it? Hop on over to NJFA’s YouTube channel (after you finish reading this blog of course!). The show can also be seen on over 70 municipal based TV stations across our state, if your town isn’t airing the show- call and ask them about it.

Aging Insights began as Aging Today and was originally a production of the Middlesex County Department of Aging and was hosted by their former Executive Director Peg Chester (Peg is also a Founding Trustee of NJFA).  NJFA took over production of the show in October 2011 and renamed it Aging Insights. Expanding the focus to a statewide audience.

We are about to celebrate an amazing milestone.  Aging Insights’ 100th episode will air in January of 2020. The episode will feature clips from previous shows and commentary from staff, board members and partners. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating, but also stick around for more- as we are not done yet! We will continue to produce Aging Insights and bring you, our audience more interviews with leaders across our state, more important updates on Medicare, more details about helpful programs like SNAP, PAAD and more. So, won’t you keep watching?

Finally, we want to remind you that Aging Insights is brought to you by sponsorships and donations. If you are able to donate, please visit our website or mail your gift to NJFA 145 W. Hanover St. Trenton, NJ 08618.

 

 

Falls Prevention Awareness Week, September 22-29, 2013

Falls Prevention Awareness Week, September 22-29, 2013

The Falls Prevention Workgroup and Division of Aging Services are promoting the 5th Annual Falls Prevention Awareness Week, September 22-29, 2013. Governor Christie declared September 23-29, 2013 Falls Prevention Awareness week with events happening throughout the state. The fall prevention workgroup is comprised of PTs, EMS personnel, health educators, etc. 

It is reported that more than one third of adults age 65 and older fall each year in the US. In New Jersey, an average of 194 people age 60 and over are treated in the ER or as inpatients due to a fall. Falls are the number one cause of brain injury in adults. as you can tell, falls are a serious problem.

The upside to this is that falls are preventable. And that is what Fall Prevention Week is all about, bringing awareness to the issue and helping people to prevent falls.

First things first, exercise is a good idea. It will increase your strength, flexibility and balance.

Make sure to get important exams, like an eye exam, yearly. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist review your medicines- both prescription and over the counter to make sure there are no side effects or interactions that could put you at risk. Also, there are some medications that can cause dizziness or weakness, so make sure you are aware if you are taking any with those side effects.

Wear the right footwear. You’d be surprised how many falls are due to this. Make sure your shoes fit properly and have non-slip soles.

You can do things around the house to make it safer as well. Remove clutter in your hallways and rooms. Make sure any wires or cords are out of the way. Make lights brighter, especially in stairways. Install bath grips or grab bars in your tub or shower. Limiting the use of area rugs is a good idea, but if you use them, make sure they are the kind with non-skid liners.

The best way to make Fall Prevention Awareness Week in NJ a success is by spreading the word.

Learn more at http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/fallprev/index.html

And be sure to check out the 24th Episode of NJFA’s TV Program, Aging Insights, which features exercises that help to promote strength and balance!

www.youtube.com/njfoundationforaging

May is Older Americans Month

The theme for Older Americans Month this year is Never Too Old to Play to learn more about this theme and what it means please visit http://olderamericansmonth.org/

 To find out what events might be taking place in your area, contact your County Office on Aging by visiting http://www.njfoundationforaging.org/services.html to find the websites and phone numbers for your county office or call 1-877-222-3737 to be connected to the office in your county.

 To kick off Older American’s Month, May’s episode of Aging Insights is all about the County Office on Aging and their services. NJFA’s Program Manager, Melissa Chalker hosts this episode which features three executive directors of NJ’s County Offices on Aging. Our guests are, Joanne Fetzko of Somerset County, Lorraine Joewono of Bergen County and Jane Maloney of Ocean County. In this episode our three guests tell us about the history of the County Offices on Aging and the services they provide to the community. In addition to addressing the community needs through the core services and what Lorraine labeled, “wrap around” services, many offices have expanded to a new model called ADRC, or Aging and Disabled Resource Connection which makes many of the services available to disabled individuals.

Aging Insights is available to public access stations. The show can also be seen on NJFA’s YouTube channel, http://ping.fm/UJr1r

New Episode- Aging Insights!

                                               Aging Insights РTransportation

 Trenton- The New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) is pleased to announce the production and release of the fourth episode of Aging Insights, the Foundation’s new cable program. This episode, Maximizing Local Transportation Options, will be broadcast in January. Aging Insights focuses on information about aging issues and services. The program is available to public access stations.

 NJFA’s Executive Director, Grace Egan hosts the January show which looks at transportation options and innovations.  The guests include, Steve Fittante Director of the Middlesex County Office of Transportation, Karen Alexander, Director of Eldercare Services at United Jewish Communities (UJC) of Metro West and Jacque Rubel, founder of Aging in Place Partnership of South Brunswick. Mr. Fittante shared some of the innovative transportation options that have been developed during his 7 years in Middlesex County. Some of those services are a special community shuttle and travel training. Ms. Rubel in her work in South Brunswick has also incorporated travel training and worked with Mr. Fittante on adding routes to their community. Ms. Alexander relays the experience in senior housing communities supported by UJC Metro West, including the development of peer leaders who assist others in learning about transportation options.

All three of our guests are well informed on the topic of transportation and have worked with NJFA on several transportation studies and advocacy efforts.

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