On November 19th, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, the McHenry County Senior TechConnect program kicked off at Hearthstone Communities in Woodstock with an initial donation of 20 smartphones. MC-Senior TechConnect, a new community program, provides smartphones or tablets to isolated seniors across all of McHenry County as a way to reduce loneliness and depression.
Pictured is Ruth Jackson, Administrator of Hearthstone Communities, Sharon Smith, Director of the the Harvard Community Senior Center, Kelli Wegener, McHenry County Board Member, Kerry Smith, Corporate Development Director at Hearthstone Communities, Marisa Pollastrini, Program Manager at the Harvard Community Senior Center, and Cindy Albright, Life Enrichment Manager at Hearthstone Communities.
Studies have shown there are approximately 3,000 isolated seniors in our county, and a quarter of them are at serious risk for depression. “With COVID, those numbers are getting much worse. The MC Senior TechConnect program will continue well beyond the pandemic to increase visual connections with friends and loved ones, to allow for virtual doctor’s visits, to access online resources, and even to offer health monitoring in the future,” says Sharon Smith, Director of the Harvard Community Senior Center and the McHenry County PEARLS Program. “This project grew from just one thoughtful person’s idea to an actual working solution with input and a lot of hard work from various agencies and individuals around the county.”
“We wanted to do something during the pandemic that would improve seniors’ mental health. Using Skype for “face-to-face” conversations is a more active style of social engagement which maintains social bonds and reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation,” says Kelli Wegener, a volunteer with the Harvard Community Senior Center and a McHenry County Board Member.
The McHenry County Covid Response Fund, led by the Community Foundation For McHenry County, the Mental Health Board, and the United Way of McHenry County, provided start-up funding earlier this year and those funds were used to purchase the software that locks down the phones so the screens can be simplified and customized for older adults. The initial devices for residents of long-term care facilities use Wi-Fi and only need an email address to connect with others through Skype. Once the contact information is entered in the phone, the connection can be made with three simple touches to the screen. “We made the screens as simple as possible, especially for those seniors who aren’t used to using technology,” says Smith.
MC Senior TechConnect was also recently awarded a $22,000 Community Development and Building Grant through McHenry County. If approved by the McHenry County Board in December, the funding will be used to purchase cellular/data service for additional phones. Those phones will be provided to community-based, isolated seniors who do not have access to Wi-Fi in their homes. “Motorola generously donated 75 smartphones to this project in May, so we are currently using these devices. We hope to collect smartphones and tablets from the public so we can help more seniors in need.” Donation drop boxes are located around the county.
If you have a gently used smartphone or tablet or know a McHenry county senior who is at risk for loneliness or depression, please visit the HCSC website https://harvardseniorcenter.org/tech-connect for a list of drop off locations. For more information, call us at (815) 355-1156 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heritage Ministries, the parent company of Hearthstone, was founded as the Orphanage and Homes of the Free Methodist Church in 1886 and has grown from its original campus in Gerry, NY, to six locations in New York with additional affiliations across the United States. As a not-for-profit provider of senior care and housing, Heritage is a leader in the industry, employing approximately 1,500 team members, and serving over 2,500 individuals annually. With locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Washington, Heritage and its affiliates provide rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, independent retirement housing, memory care, and assisted living. In addition, childcare is provided at two campuses, allowing for intergenerational programs. For more information on Heritage Ministries, please visit www.heritage1886.org.