LONGMEADOW — Glenmeadow announced it has received a $2,000 increase in grant funding from Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc. (GSSSI) to expand a program that helps reduce the isolation of older adults in the region.
Last year, Glenmeadow launched Neighbor to Neighbor using a $5,000 grant from GSSSI, and this year, the Springfield organization granted $7,000, allowing for an expansion of the program that serves people living in various community settings in Greater Springfield.
“Even in an institutional setting, people can still be isolated, even if family members visit,” Glenmeadow President and CEO Anne Thomas said. “Isolation produces other issues. It can lead to depression, cognitive decline, and major health problems.”
She added that “isolation is an epidemic. It is worldwide. There are new statistics that show there are more deaths from isolation than smoking cigarettes.”
Through the program, people volunteer to visit an older adult who feels isolated. Program facilitators train the volunteers and then pair them with a senior who feels the need for companionship. The program coordinator oversees the matches.
“The key piece is the relationship,” Thomas said. “We want people to build a relationship. Relationships are an antidote to isolation.”
In its first year, Glenmeadow recruited about 30 Neighbor to Neighbor volunteers. This year, with the increased funding, the goal is to double the number served.
“We want people to be on the lookout for individuals who need our help. Referrals are always welcome,” Thomas said. “Being aware that this is a problem and being aware of the scope of the problem is key.”
Raising awareness about isolation for older adults is also a goal, she added. “Talk to your neighbors. Get to know them. Our lives are so busy now. Our culture has changed. If you have a neighbor who isn’t picking up the mail or taking out the trash, or you see a car sitting in the driveway for weeks at a time, reach out to them. Let’s go back to living in community again versus everyone living in their own little worlds without connecting with others.”
Glenmeadow resident Merle Ryan was diagnosed with cancer the year the Neighbor to Neighbor program was founded. “What she wanted to do to help her cope was give to someone else,” Thomas said.
Along with other volunteers, Glenmeadow trained Ryan to take part, and then the coordinator paired her with an older adult longing for socialization. Ryan built a relationship with that peer, and she said the program helps her, too.
“You don’t realize how much I get back from doing this,” Ryan said. “I’m getting so much out of this relationship with this person. She’s helped me too.”
In launching the program, Glenmeadow took the lead and was assisted by regional partners including First Church of Christ, the Longmeadow Adult Center, the Spiritual Services and Clinical Pastoral Education Department at Baystate Medical Center, and Temple Beth El.
“We’re always better off with good minds around the table,” Thomas said, noting that each of the grant partners has made significant contributions. “No one organization or person has all the answers. We learn from each other. We each bring a certain expertise to the table.”
To refer an older adult for the program or to become a volunteer, call Thomas at (413) 567-5977.