Crisis Spawns Efforts to Keep L.A. Seniors' Spirits Uplifted

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Effort to keep seniors' spirits up in the midst of the stress and worry caused by the coronavirus pandemic has sparked innovation in residential care facilities and among volunteers who participate in twice-weekly phone calls with isolated elderly members of the Los Angeles community.

At the Los Angeles Jewish Home residents are treated to international theme events with corresponding foods and costumed staff, said Larissa Stepanians, its chief operating officer.

“Since they can't get out of their units, we bring it to them -- to exchange a little bit of joy,” Stepanians said. “Everyone's spirits are so high. We're finding joy in the tough times.”

During last week's Italian Day event, male staff wore curled moustaches, the Three Tenors sang Puccini in the background and three types of bruschetta were offered. A day celebrating England featured homemade scones with butter and jam.

Another uplifting effort for seniors is L.A. Works' TeleSocial program in which volunteers socialize with Los Angeles' isolated elderly over the phone twice weekly, sharing mutual feelings of concern over the coronavirus pandemic's stay-at-home order.

The program grew into an intergenerational experience supporting mental health and optimism, said Deborah Brutchey, executive director of L.A. Works.

“It's been overwhelming,” Brutchey said. “Volunteers are coming out of the woodwork. It's a mutual feeling of stress and worry -- and it's purely social. Relationships are formed.”

Over the past month, more than 250 homebound seniors have received bi- weekly calls from the volunteer matched to them.

An additional 300-plus volunteers have been trained and are waiting to be matched to call recipients. L.A. Works is accepting additional homebound Los Angeles seniors -- 55 and older -- to receive the calls.

The program, which is modeled after a similar program started by the Motion Picture & Television Fund, is supported by a grant from The Eisner Foundation.

A TeleSocial volunteer named Joanna -- no last name given -- said she looks forward to speaking with her telephonic partner.

“It's a lovely way for both of us to connect during the shelter-in- place and take our minds off any stress we may be dealing with,” she said. “In addition, it's satisfying to associate with someone outside of my friend and age group.”

Those interested in receiving a friendly social phone call twice a week can sign up on the L.A. Works website today or call 818-446-9538 and L.A. Works will match them with a volunteer. L.A. Works is also seeking Spanish- speaking volunteers to speak with seniors.

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