By Lauren Junge, NYJL Senior Friends committee co-chair
The elderly population is the largest growing demographic in the United States, making volunteer services in the community a critical need. NYJL’s Senior Friends volunteers serve the senior community at the New Jewish Home by forming and maintaining relationships with the residents, who enjoy making new “friends” with our volunteers.
The senior community at the New Jewish Home are largely confined to wheelchairs, but continue to retain strong cognitive capabilities. These seniors are often unable to leave home due to limited mobility or the long distance from their families, and are therefore susceptible to social isolation. Working closely with hospital staff and volunteer coordinators, NYJL’s Senior Friends plan and organize engaging activities to enrich residents’ daily lives and provide a greater sense of community.
NYJL volunteers host entertainment, games, chats, performers, crafts, and shopping events, all of which bring joy to the residents. Every year for almost a decade, NYJL’s Senior Friends have invited Elvis to perform at the year-end send-off before the summer break of the volunteer year. Last fall, Elvis gave a special performance, via Zoom. Other favorite traditions include bingo and “therapy dog” night.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, the NYJL had to quickly pivot to virtual support. Senior Friends launched a card and letter writing campaign for the staff and residents. Thanks to a flyer used to promote the campaign externally and within the League, over 350 letters were sent—including 150 from high school students in North Carolina!
To help keep residents engaged, especially as socializing in groups was no longer possible, NYJL’s Senior Friends created an Amazon Wish List campaign for supplies, resulting in the donation of over 500 items, including tablets and Bluetooth speakers, enabling residents to participate in online programming.
Supporting the hard-hit entertainment industry while bringing theater to the residents, the NYJL underwrote a virtual performance by Broadway Babysitters, a caregiving company created and employed exclusively by artists. The virtual experience began with a five-minute low impact dance class followed by entertainment from Jen Malenke and Rueby Wood from the national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Every year, the New Jewish Home plans a senior prom for the residents. Staff and residents dress up and attend a dance in the auditorium. As last year’s prom approached, the staff looked for ways to still make it special, but safe. Thanks to donations from NYJL’s Senior Friends, everyone decorated PPE gowns and masks and enjoyed cheesecake and sparkling cider. The staff handed out gifts while music played in the halls.
The NYJL continues to support the New Jewish Home from afar with a fall performance from Elvis, specially delivered Thanksgiving meals, and a holiday event with Broadway Babysitters. NYJL volunteers recently delivered boxes of masks and hand sanitizers to the New Jewish Home and is now circulating another Amazon wish list to collect donations for the residents. NYJL volunteers look forward to returning to its halls once again and reconnecting with the residents in person. In the meantime, the stories of recovery at the New Jewish Home inspire NYJL volunteers each and every day.