STONINGTON — Town officials are using the COVID-19 public health crisis to send a message to the senior and disabled community that they are not alone.
Stonington Human Services announced a new initiative this week modeled after a national program that will seek to connect the community’s homebound seniors and disabled residents with volunteers to make sure all their needs are met — even if all they need is a friendly voice.
The program, called “You Are Not Alone,” is still in the early planning stages in Stonington, but officials are already working to establish a network that would provide calls once per week (or more often in extreme cases) to those who opt in to the service. The program is based on a national model, according to Stonington Human Services Director Leanne DiGangi Theodore, and is designed to identify and provide for the needs of those who are not able to travel out of the house regularly.
“It’s not something that most of us think about, but for some in the community the only connection with the outside world may be their Meals on Wheels driver,” Theodore said. “One of our biggest goals since this public health crisis started has been to identify those seniors in the community who need any type of extra assistance, whether it’s getting groceries or help getting a prescription, and we believe this program is an opportunity to expand what we are able to do.”
While researching ways to better connect with the community, Theodore and staff with Human Services came across the “You Are Not Alone” program. The initiative is simple: volunteers organize a call sheet, and those who are homebound contact human services to opt in. A volunteer base will then call those on the list each week to check in and help with any needs.
The concept was first implemented in southern California through the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol working with several police departments and has since been implemented in communities across the U.S.
Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough praised the work of Theodore and her staff, saying the program will not only help to meet a need during the COVID-19 crisis, but will also serve the community well into the future.
She said she has already offered to have the town send a reverse call to residents using the Everbridge system to help notify residents of the service.
“This could prove to be a really important service for some in our community,” Chesebrough said. “I really hope that this will develop into something we will be able to continue to offer moving forward, even once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.”
Theodore said this week that her department has already spoken with Rotary clubs in Westerly and Mystic, noting that both expressed an overwhelming interest in helping to get the program off the ground. The department has already started spreading word online and plans to mail a flier to Stonington residents in the near future.
In the meantime, those interested in taking part in the program either as a client or volunteer are encouraged to call Stonington Human Services at 860-535-5015. Information will soon be posted on the agency’s website as well.
For more information on this and other Stonington Human Services program updates, residents may also visit the town’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Town-of-Stonington-CT-733170630115878/.
Theodore said the town also launched a Facebook group this week designed to help connect local families with resources that may be used while they are staying at home during the COVID-19 crisis. The group, Stonington Connects, had already amassed more than 500 followers in the first couple days.
The group allows people to share a variety of resources from sites where you can enjoy virtual experiences from home and take a tour of the animal kingdom, to programs where you could learn a new skill such as speaking a second language.
“We are hoping it will be a one-stop shop to identify some more programs and activities you can do from home with your family while still social distancing,” Theodore said.
To join the group, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/147286799947772/ and click “Join Group.”