Glenmeadow Renews Charge Against Social Isolation

LONGMEADOW — Glenmeadow recently trained seven new volunteers to pair with community members seeking companionship through its Neighbor to Neighbor program, and it continues to seek new volunteers as well as neighbors.

Erin Koebler, director of Community Care at Glenmeadow, said the training that was held mostly virtually in late October was originally scheduled for March, and the life-plan community felt it could no longer wait to renew the program and recruitment efforts.

“Older adults can easily become isolated from friends, family, and the community, putting them at risk for health issues and decline in independence,” Koebler said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this already-concerning problem, putting many more elders in our midst at risk. We are reinvigorating our program, knowing that residents of the Greater Longmeadow area are so isolated.”

Glenmeadow is committed to combating social isolation because loneliness can lead to depression, cognitive decline, and major health problems. Through Neighbor to Neighbor, volunteers — most of them older adults themselves — are paired with individuals in Greater Springfield who seek companionship.

Neighbor to Neighbor serves both people living at Glenmeadow and those in their own homes. Funding to launch the work came in 2018 from Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc. (GSSSI), which provided a $5,000 grant that year. Glenmeadow led development efforts, assisted by regional partners including First Church of Christ, Longmeadow Adult Center, the Spiritual Services and Clinical Pastoral Education Department at Baystate Medical Center, and Temple Beth El. In the first year, the funds allowed the recruitment of 30 volunteers and neighbors.

For the past two years, GSSSI has awarded the life plan community a $7,000 grant, and Koebler said Glenmeadow is committed to growing the program through new, creative means. “This year, with no end in sight to the COVID-19 crisis, we intend to expend some of our resources on technology that will make connecting easier for those who participate.”

She noted that few of those who were paired before the pandemic are meeting live now; many are speaking regularly on the phone instead. Volunteers are sending cards and letters to their neighbors and vice versa, and volunteers are dropping off baked goods and surprises on porches and back steps.

“We are hoping to create joy through friendship and the building of relationships,” Koebler said.

In late October, Glenmeadow held a training on Zoom and allowed several people who did not feel at risk to join live in a setting that offered social distance. The trainer spent two hours explaining the basics of isolation and why social interaction is important and also helping volunteers to get comfortable with various situations and challenges they might experience.

Koebler said the training touched on how to establish rapport over the telephone and be an empathetic listener, and the leader also explained that some neighbors could have behavioral, visual, or cognitive impairments. “We prepare people for all the difficult situations they might face and follow up if they have a day with their neighbor when things are challenging.”

Glenmeadow also provides mentorship to volunteers. “That’s a big component,” Koebler said. “We provide support and networking opportunities for the volunteers.”

Call Koebler at (413) 567-5977 if you know an older adult who would like to be a neighbor or someone who would like to be trained as a volunteer.