“It seemed like a perfect synergy of Jewish organizations,” said Alexis. “My twin six-year-old girls love to do art, and the Connect Project was a perfect way for them to help brighten someone’s day.”
The Connect Project was initiated by Jewish Family Service (JFS) when PJ Library and The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center approached JFS about ways they could help connect with Holocaust survivors and other seniors during this time of social distancing. Soon after, Rockwern Academy joined the effort as well.
“We are calling, emailing, and snail mailing our clients,” said Ann Sutton Burke, Vice President of Client Services at JFS. “We are very aware of the impact social isolation has on them. Family members aren’t able to visit. Routine medical visits are canceled. All of this is a recipe for faster and further decline of our older adults.”
Studies have shown that about a third of older adults report feeling socially isolated and lonely. That puts this already vulnerable population at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, depression, and dementia, and it speeds up the aging process. While statistics of how that has increased since the onset of COVID-19 are not yet available, strict social distancing measures have decreased the number of people older adults are able to interact with. Additionally, the tools best suited for combatting isolation—Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype—are those older adults generally feel the least comfortable using.
To help combat loneliness in older adults, the organizations involved in Connect Project are asking their members, and others in the community, to create letters or art to send out to people who are at risk of isolation.
“My girls love to draw,” Alexis said, “and this is a good way to continue to teach them to help others, especially at this time.”
Alexis shared how it was important to her that her daughters understand their art is helping make people happy, feel that they’re loved, and that people are thinking of them. “It’s such a very small something," said Alexis, "but I know the difference it makes in people’s lives. We have older family members and friends that we check in on, and the Connect Project makes us feel good knowing we’re helping other people in our community as well.”
Alexis scanned her girls’ artwork and letters and emailed them to the Connect Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their letters, Alexis said, were then translated into Russian, and the girls have since received wonderful thank you notes from the staff. “And many of them have kept in touch with the girls!" she said. "I honestly didn’t expect them to, but I’m so surprised and happy to know my kids are actively engaged.”
The project is still in its early days, and the staff is looking for more families to get involved.
“It’s so important to have compassion, especially now more than ever,” said Alexis. “It’s just wonderful Jewish Family Service and the other organizations are remembering to take care of our seniors.”