Keeping senior residents mentally healthy and socially connected has been a prerogative throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for us here at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. Thanks to Verizon, The University of Rhode Island and The Voice Advisors, we’ve effectively promoted digital inclusion for the seniors residing at The Meadows, an independent living community in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. By providing internet access and Amazon Fire tablets to every resident, all community members now have the opportunity to stay virtually connected.
In February, 2020, before “social distancing” and “COVID-19” became the new normal, Resident Services Coordinator for the Meadows, Millie Lukens, attended a meeting of the State, where the conversation revolved around the lack of internet connectivity for seniors. Millie saw the need for digital inclusion even before it became “essential.”
Only 11% of our population had an internet connection at that time. We began brainstorming on how we could get our residents an internet connection, obtain devices for them to use, and provide the training necessary to constructively use them. And then then COVID struck.”Millie Lukens
Along with the rest of the country, The residents at the Meadows, an incredibly social and vibrant community, saw a huge shift in their daily dynamic. With closed common spaces, cancelled social engagements, an empty community room, and mandatory social distancing, residents found themselves confined to their rooms with no clear end in sight.
Thanks to Millie’s innovative and progressive ingenuity, generous partners from across the State, and Amazon’s cloud-based voice service Alexa, NWBRV devised a solution for the isolated senior citizens that came in the form of a 7 inch screen.
By distributing Alexa-enabled Amazon Fire Tablets to all 88 residents, and implementing the training necessary to utilize the devices, NWBRV was able to help residents become socially connected beyond their apartments. Now, with a simple “Hey Alexa,” residents can sign up for a yoga class, order groceries, check their calendars, or most importantly, call up a friend or family member, all from their comfort and safety of their homes.
I need to give you back this tablet! It is keeping me so busy catching up with friends that I am not doing my housework!”Meadows resident
With no budget for this work, it was generous area partners that made the tablet program a reality. URI donated over 40 tablets and continues to provide invaluable tech support through student volunteers. The Voice Advisors, a progressive voice enablement and development company, contributed countless hours of in kind support developing a custom voice-enabled App connecting Meadow’s residents with everything from the news of the day to step by step instructions for how to use a new component of the device. Finally, Verizon granted us the funds to sustain a year of programming, expand internet access, and provide tablets for the rest of the residents. Thanks to Verizon’s financial backing, residents now have the capability to access everything from social media to telehealth appointments.
Verizon was proud to partner with and support NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and the digital literacy program at the Meadows. The pandemic exacerbated many challenges for our communities, particularly seniors dealing with loneliness and isolation. This program combats those challenges, engaging seniors in virtual activities that promote physical and mental health. We’re thrilled with the outcomes and look forward to our continued collaboration.”Adriana Dawson, Community Engagement Director, Verizon
With COVID-19 physical distancing requirements slowly being lifted, NWBRV and The Meadows look forward to all of the new opportunities that the community’s newfound digital access will offer. Thanks to three separate vaccine clinics held at the Meadows since January, 89% of residents are now fully vaccinated.
The lack of being able to meet face to face with people has been a barrier to a lot of what the residents will be able to do with their devices. This barrier, as of mid-March, is essentially lifted as all willing residents have been vaccinated. What they’ve missed the most was that social aspect of living in the community. They withdrew into their apartments. Now, thanks to this program and all the partners who made it possible, they are connecting to their outside friends using their tablets.Millie Lukens