Helping the Most Vulnerable Elderly Bridge Communication Gap

February 11, 2016

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For 67-year-old Daniel Greenberg, every day was an exercise in how to combat his feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Beltsy resident’s wife and daughter had made aliyah years before, and many friends had left Moldova for Germany, Canada, and Israel.

But then Daniel met a group of young volunteers at the city’s JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center who were committed to helping the elderly increase their access to technology.

Suddenly, he was able to use the center’s Skype video messaging software to communicate with loved ones thousands of miles away.

“I have so many friends and family so far away. I wanted to know how they are,” he said. “For us elderly, every day is important. In our everyday life, we don’t get enough communication.”

The program began when several young volunteers noticed a real lack of resources and communication among the elderly population served by the Beltsy Hesed.

Program coordinators at Beltsy’s Day Center and its Peer-to-Peer project—a volunteer initiative that has elderly Hesed clients with greater mobility and better health visiting their homebound peers to help them fight social isolation—took it from there, They conducted a client survey and compiled a list of volunteers eager to take on the project.

Then it was time for training—engaging the elderly with sensitivity, compassion, and a respect for mobility issues and other limitations—and finally the launch of the project.

Next up is the project’s expansion, with the aim of developing a cohort of young people who are “experts” in training retirees. The goal is to organize seminars, workshops, and roundtable discussions for these volunteers so they can develop an out-of-the-box instruction guide for the project. This would enable it to be replicated with other groups of volunteers and elderly, and in other cities.

Beyond simply expanding communication opportunities for the elderly, the project is an important link across the generations for Moldova’s Jewish community, and its effects are already clear.

“I compare participating in this project to building a bridge from one bank of the river to the other. Elderly people are active, cheerful, and full of energy. They have many interesting hobbies and rich experiences,” one volunteer said. “I, from my side, have a different perspective — that of the modern world. This project is where our perspectives meet. We learn a lot from each other.”

Daniel agrees.

“Not only did I learn to communicate on Skype with my loved ones, I learned to work on the computer. I could even print out some of my poems!” he said. “I couldn’t be more grateful to these young volunteers.”

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