For Jewish seniors living in isolation, the pandemic deepened the disconnect many already felt from their community. A recent collaboration between several local Jewish agencies will help reintegrate many of our seniors with the family and friends, synagogues, and other community organizations they rely on.
The increasing isolation our seniors experience was revealed in a 2016 study, spearheaded by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Nearly 25 percent of the seniors involved in the study reported that they would like to participate more in Jewish life, but transportation issues and other factors stood in the way. In response to these findings, Federation convened a Senior Services Task Force to address the root causes of isolation among aging adults. Their work brought together a host of community partners in developing two key initiatives: 1) an easy to use, in-home technology that connects seniors to virtual programming, including local synagogue services, JCC classes, medical appointments, and video chat with friends and family; and 2) a local ride service for seniors that provides one-on-one assistance and companion services as needed. These two initiatives, now being implemented by Jewish Family Services (JFS), will help Jewish seniors throughout the Greater Hartford area reconnect with their community — both in-person and in the comfort of their homes.
"Isolation has been hard for everyone during the pandemic, but it's been a particularly huge challenge for the older adults in our community," says Miriam Brander, Chief Operating Officer for JFS. "We're very excited to work with Federation on two important initiatives, one to provide technology and the other to provide transportation, both of which will help end the isolation our community members experience."
Uniper In-Home Technology Serves Holocaust and Trauma Survivors
The pandemic accelerated a wide variety of virtual experiences, including telehealth appointments, Zoom religious services, and virtual chats with family and friends. However, aging adults often struggled to manage the many platforms and apps these programs required. Uniper's assisted technology provides seniors with a single user experience that connects them to community events, educational experiences, and social opportunities — all with an easy-to-use interface plugged into their existing television or computer.
A network of local Jewish agencies came together to bring this technology to Greater Hartford's seniors, with special focus on Holocaust survivors and seniors who have experienced trauma. Currently, 156 Holocaust survivors live in the Greater Hartford area as well as countless survivors of trauma, giving this assisted technology a potentially far-reaching impact. The Jewish Federations of North America, together with our local Federation, funded this technology through federal grants, and additional funding was provided by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford. JFS is now managing the program’s implementation and hiring a dedicated technology coordinator who will help install the technology and guide seniors in using it. According to other communities who have used the Uniper system, this level of technical support is critical in making the program a success.
JFS is now reaching out to local synagogues and Jewish agencies throughout Greater Hartford who would like to make their programs and services available through the Uniper system. In addition to local content and events, Uniper gives seniors access to a national library of live and taped classes. The assisted technology also includes a mounted webcam, which can be used for virtual chats with friends and family, care providers, and other familiar faces. Funding is also available for qualified seniors who do not currently have internet access.
New Senior Ride Service Provides Affordable, Customized Transportation
Many local seniors report lack of affordable transportation as being a significant barrier to their participation in community events. While several ride services currently exist, including Uber and Lyft, these services are not designed with seniors in mind, including those with medical needs or personal safety concerns. The Jewish Hartford Senior Ride Service (JHSRS) will address that need with on-call drivers who provide personal assistance, wait for seniors while they attend appointments, and offer respectful companionship throughout the experience. This program, conceived by Federation and funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, is now managed by Jewish Family Services (JFS), whose existing outreach to the senior community makes them ideal stewards for this initiative.
"This program is perfect for Jewish seniors with physical challenges and some financial need," notes Miriam Brander. "And thanks to a grant we received from the Jewish Community Foundation, most of the ride cost will be covered for those eligible."
Jewish seniors or their families who are interested in this service should email Cody Daigle at JFS.
Above: Homebound seniors in Florida participate in an exercise class via Uniper technology.