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Older Americans Month 2020: Make your mark

Around the nation, older adults make their mark every day as volunteers, employees, employers, parents, grandparents, mentors, and advocates. They offer their time, talents, and experience to the benefit of our communities. For 57 years, May (Older American’s Month) has been a special time to recognize these contributions. While most celebrations, like Older New Yorker’s Day, have been cancelled because of COVID-19, this disease has not stopped older adults from “making their mark” on our communities.

Older adults continue to contribute to society during this time by helping their families with children who are not in school; some are making masks to help protect those who need to be out; some are reaching out to friends, family, church members, and older neighbors to keep people connected and calm while we all are social distancing. Social distancing while necessary to prevent infection from COVID-19 can be very hard on our physical and mental well being. Prolonged isolation and chronic loneliness can also lead to negative health consequences. So it’s more important than ever to find ways to make this time at home meaningful and share those ideas with others.

Remember to stick to a routine, eat right, take time to exercise daily, and find new ways to keep your mind active. Office for the Aging is currently working with local Access Channel 5 to record some of your favorite exercise and wellness instructors including Tai Chi for Arthritis, Healthy Bones, and Eat Healthy Be Active. These will be broadcasted soon on local access stations and available on YouTube for your enjoyment under the #Chautauqua Strong logo.

Learning new things and teaching others is another way older adults are “making their mark” during this usual time. We are all learning to Zoom, Skype and use InstaCart to keep up our social connections, shop, and do business. To help you with your gardens, Monday- Friday from 10 to noon Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County is hosting Master Gardeners Volunteers online “Garden Fence Chat.” Other local organizations are also rethinking their programs for your enjoyment. Check out the Aquarium of Niagara website for behind the scenes look at caring for 120 species of aquatic animals. WNED Buffalo has produced several documentaries about Buffalo that are now posted to their website for your enjoyment. And don’t forget the National Comedy Center Anywhere. Links on their website to lots of comedy videos to get you laughing; the best medicine to combat loneliness! For more ideas, check out the Chautauqua County Office for Aging Website and Facebook page.

While I want to thank everyone who is helping older adult get through this very usual time, I want to give special recognition to all the volunteers who are helping to feed our local community especially the homebound elderly during this crisis. During the last two months, we have seen a tremendous increase in demand for home delivered meals as older people with under lying health conditions try to limit their exposure to the virus. In Chautauqua County most people know this service as “Meals on Wheels.” Some people utilize this service short-term following a hospitalization or illness, while others need this service for years to enable them to live at home and maintain good nutrition. The Office for the Aging coordinates all home delivered meals for people 60+ and for people of any age with disabilities.

OFA could NOT provide this service without three very dedicated not-for-profit meal delivery programs and their teams of volunteers. Jamestown Meals on Wheels, headed by Barrie Yochim, serves the bulk of Chautauqua County residents in the south, west and middle of the county. Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels, led by Deb Pacos, serves the northern towns and along the lakeshore. Sinclairville 76ers, a totally grass-roots volunteer organization headed by Dick Smith, serves people around Cassadaga, Sinclairville, and 4 towns in the eastern section of our county. All of these organizations and their volunteers have stepped up to meet the increase demand for meals without complaint or a thought for their own safety.

As some volunteers have had to stay home for health reasons, others have stepped up to help including some DPF workers who were home. MOW is more than a meal it is also a personal check on these vulnerable adults who sometimes don’t see anyone else for days. It’s been hard to have that personal touch when we can no longer enter the client’s home. This hasn’t stopped our MOW volunteers. Those who can no longer deliver are now calling clients to check on them and chat, keeping that personal connection going.

So we choose all our Home Delivered Meals Volunteers as our Volunteers of the Year, 2020. Thank you for all you do everyday to make sure the most vulnerable people in Chautauqua County are cared for!

For more information on this program or anything in this article, contact NY Connects Helpline at (716) 753-4582. Stay Well!

Mary Ann Sponos is the director of the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging.

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