SOUTHWICK-As the nor’easter blasted through the region last week, several students from the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School were gearing up to help seniors in town.
“We started our Seniors Helping Seniors program which kicked off Dec. 17,” said Cindy Sullivan, executive director, Southwick Council on Aging/Senior Center. “We have 15 senior citizens signed up and we matched them with students – often seniors in high school – from Southwick High.”
Sullivan noted that tasks students can assist with include clearing off people’s vehicles and their sidewalks, as well as shoveling out their mailboxes and fire hydrants.
“They are not shoveling entire driveways but doing the smaller tasks that plow companies do not do,” said Sullivan.”It was a huge success yesterday and both our older adults and our students were happy to participate in this program.”
Sullivan said the Seniors Helping Seniors program was initiated last year, however, due to the lack of snow and then the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was shelved.
“Seniors Helping Seniors is designed to have students helping seniors with outside tasks that can be challenging for them such as getting the snow off their cars, shoveling walkways and mailboxes,” said Sullivan. “In the spring perhaps it will be raking leaves.”
The program came to fruition when Sullivan and Vice Principal Michael Pescitelli teamed up to coordinate the initiative.
Close to 30 students have signed up as volunteers and several students took part in the program last week including Zoey Stevenson, Brienne Senez, Tim Gerrish, Nate Goodwin and Adam Smith, according to Sullivan.
“It was great to see the students out on a snow day helping their community and most importantly, their senior citizens in their community,” said Sullivan. “Mr. Pescitelli and I were in communication with the students and they all fulfilled their commitment which speaks volumes for these students.”
Sullivan added that on Friday she received several calls from seniors thanking the students and the Council on Aging for the program.
“We will continue the program and probably expand it as it moves forward,” said Sullivan.
Despite the Southwick Senior Center being closed due to the pandemic, Sullivan said there are a variety of programs offered to keep seniors engaged and not feeling lonely.
“The seniors in our area are still dealing with isolation of COVID,” said Sullivan. “Winter time is usually a time seniors stay home because of the cold and the increase of fall risk, etc., but this year they have been in isolation for nine months.”
For seniors who feel isolated and need to reach out to someone, know that the staff members at the Southwick Senior Center are available weekdays to take calls.
“Our seniors should know that we are trying to do our very best to keep people from feeling isolated,” said Sullivan. “We are working hard to be creative and interactive during these very challenging times.”
Sullivan added she wants people to call and sign up for the weekday grab-and-go lunch meals.
“If they would like Meals on Wheels they should call Highland Valley Elder Services for daily meal delivery,” said Sullivan.
Southwick Senior Center offerings also include transportation to physician appointments, grocery store and pharmacy visits, virtual Bingo on Wednesdays, and crafts twice a month.
“We also are partnering with the Southwick Public Library to do a book club in mid-January,” said Sullivan. “We have exercise programs on Channel 15 and we are partnering with the CBD store in mid-January as well. There will be a presentation aired on Channel 15 with a chance to stop by and receive a goody bag from the store.”
Sullivan noted they may also add some live Zoom exercise classes in January and February.
“We are constantly trying to keep our seniors engaged so they don’t feel so isolated,” said Sullivan. “We are calling people to do check-ins and if they would like a regular call, they can call and be placed on the list.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamper plans for the Southwick Senior Center to open, Sullivan assures seniors they are always in her thoughts and in future planning initiatives.
“We want people to know they are not alone and just because our building is closed we are still available to offer support to seniors,” said Sullivan.
For more information on any of the services offered, call the Southwick Senior Center at (413) 569-5498 or visit www.southwickma.org/COA. The monthly newsletter is also posted on the website with up-to-date information on all programs and services.