Over 200 neighbor gift requests were filled by the Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition this year. Angel trees were set up in the Cottonwood, Sedona and Camp Verde Libraries, the Sedona United Methodist Church, and Oakcreek Country Club. People picked gift requests off the trees, bought and wrapped the gifts and returned them to collection boxes by the trees.
Gift requests are usually for such items as warm socks, gloves, pajamas, and blanket throws, but might also include special requests. One neighbor received a “Reacher-grabber” and another a microwave oven. Many of our elderly neighbors are very poor and alone in the world. For some, this will be the only holiday gift they will receive.
People who give the gifts look forward to the program. The libraries begin receiving calls in October from people asking when the trees will be up. Volunteers who deliver the gifts find it a very rewarding experience because the neighbors are usually very grateful for the gift.
VVCC Call Center Specialist, Veloy Habinck, related the following experience:
“A couple of weeks ago I received a call from Sandra who said she just received our Holiday Gift letter (a bit after the deadline due to a change of address). I asked her what she would like...and she said a blanket throw.”
Veloy quickly ordered a throw and was able to deliver it a few days later. “When I got to her home, I heard this little dog barking away and I thought...’hmm, hope it does not bite!’ She opened the door; I introduced myself and extended the wrapped present to her and I have never, never seen a more stunned expression! She put her hand toward her cheek and kept saying ‘I don't know what to say.’ Tears started flowing down her cheek. Then ‘I don't know how to thank you; I just don't know how to thank you.’ How wonderful to bring someone a bit of happiness -- a simple blanket throw turned into an amazing experience. And, I got to meet her dog, Willie who, by the way, did not bite, but gave little kisses!”
VVCC is pleased to announce the addition of two new Board of Directors whose professional knowledge and experience has already contributed to guiding the organization in their response to the COVID -19 pandemic.
Bruce Peek, M.D., Cardiologist joined the board in April. Prior to that he helped VVCC develop its COVID-19 protocols for employees, volunteers, and neighbors.
During Peek’s tenure as Director of ICU and Cardiology at Verde Valley Medical Center, he came to appreciate the critical role served by VVCC in assisting with discharges, allowing patients to go home and yet have transportation and support while recovering. He observed that VVCC “helped prevent readmissions and I feel improved patients’ quality of life after serious medical illnesses.”
Dr. Peek has retired from clinical practice. He currently does medicolegal consulting for the National Parks System as a Preventative Search and Rescue Ranger. He is also on the Board of Directors for Sedona Arts Center. His interests include ceramics, woodturning, fiber arts.
Joseph Montedonico, J.D., who joined the board in August, has lived in Sedona for 18 years and is a full-time personal injury trial lawyer. He is a Navajo Lawyer, providing work on the Navajo Nation, most of which is pro bono. He is also the pro bono attorney for the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, Verde Valley Archaeology Center and the Sedona Art Museum.
Joe was inspired to become involved with VVCC because, “The organization has a wonderful reputation for providing transportation to the elderly and those in need in northern Arizona.” He sees it as an opportunity for him to give back.
Prior to coming to Sedona Joe was Partner and President of Montedonico, Belcuore & Razzara, P.C., a 65-lawyer firm in Baltimore, MD; Washington DC; and Fairfax, VA. His main interests are foreign travel and photography.
New Directors Joseph Montedonico left; Dr. Bruce Peek right.
Older adults who live alone can fight loneliness and isolation by staying connected to family, friends, and their healthcare providers. Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition plans to help seniors do this by utilizing their smart phones and tablets.
Through a partnership with Northern Arizona University nursing students, VVCC recently surveyed 264 of its neighbors (older adults enrolled to receive VVCC services), with an average age of 77. The survey found 71% of respondents have a cell phone, personal tablet, or computer with internet service. The survey also found 28 percent are not comfortable using the technology, and another 29 percent do not have the technology at all.
“The gap between those who can and cannot afford internet services and smart phones, tablets, or computers, or the availability of training will result in more and more adults and seniors feeling isolated and left behind,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth.
The need to stay-safe by staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic has especially affected older adults who are vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the virus, Ellsworth adds. “Although trained VVCC volunteers and staff social workers are regularly reaching out by phone to check-in on well-being and health, our elderly neighbors are noting increased loneliness, anxiety, and depression with being so isolated.”
To improve the health and social connectedness for older adults, VVCC plans to increase communication through technology coaching including internet, smart-phone and tablet applications, and computer training. Technology training would be provided by trained tech coach volunteers and staff. This program will also assist seniors with solving internet access problems by providing or arranging signal boosters.
In early August, VVCC launched an initial pilot to test the Tech Coach program concept with one tech coach volunteer providing direct support for VVCC neighbors to utilize their mobile smartphone to connect with their family members who live out-of-state and to their primary care physician. At this early stage, the three neighbors who received our direct, in-home assistance with downloading and using apps and with entering contacts all express their complete satisfaction and gratefulness for having this assistance. These early recipients of this service all state they gave up using regular customer support services provided by their mobile phone service.
“Long before the current COVID-19 pandemic environment of isolating at home was in effect, researchers were studying consequences of prolonged isolation on older adults,” Ellsworth said.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “Research has linked isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. Conversely, people who engage in activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose.”
VVCC is seeking funding for the new Tech Coach Program. Ellsworth said, right now, and through the foreseeable future of stay-at-home, stay-safe, increasing resources for technology
coaching will enable our neighbors to interact with their world and reduce the detrimental health effects of isolation. Ellsworth continues, “We want to add life to your years by helping you get and stay connected.”
VVCC is in its 28th year serving approximately 1,800 older adults throughout the Verde Valley. Volunteers drive neighbors to the grocery store, medical appointments, dialysis, physical therapy and other important appointments. Volunteers also provide home safety checks, shop for neighbors, provide business help, patient scribe, respite and pet assistance. VVCC also loans Guardian Angel emergency alert units to older adults at risk for falling.
For information about VVCC services, volunteering, or becoming a tech coach, please call (928) 204-1238. You may also visit our website at: www.vvcaregivers.org for a full list of volunteer opportunities. You decide when and how often you can volunteer.
During this time of social distancing, our neighbors have stocked up on food and paper products and are staying home. Many are alone and need help in normal times. Twelve members of the Northern Arizona Retired Nurses In Action (NARNIA) volunteering with Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition are making phone calls to reassure neighbors and ensure their needs are met through this trying time.
The callers found that many of VVCC’s neighbors are isolated and scared. Many also have underlying health issues, such as COPD which make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The phone calls, though, are making a big difference. “The (neighbors) have a chance to share their fears and anxieties, especially those who live alone, said retired nurse Penny Mathieu. “Even though we remind them of social distancing and other preventive personal care, at least they know that they are still a part of the community and someone still cares about their well-being.”
While sheltering at home, VVCC services are necessarily limited to only essential services, such as taking neighbors to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions and shopping for neighbors. Protocols have been put in place to protect neighbors and volunteers from the virus.
In their conversations with neighbors, the nurses also learned how much the efforts of VVCC’s caring and brave volunteers are appreciated.
Retired nurse Donna Chalmers quotes some of the comments neighbors have made to her, “Many said, ‘I don't know what I would do at this time without you.’ Some said, ‘my family lives far away and they are worried about me because I don't drive anymore, and I don't know a lot of my neighbors.’” One of those she spoke with said, "I have COPD and I'm scared that if I have contact with someone with the virus, it could kill me."
As well as providing comfort, the nurses also inform the neighbors on how best to protect themselves from the virus through handwashing and social distancing. Most volunteer on a regular basis to provide in-home assessments of older adults applying to become neighbors, help neighbors understand medical recommendations and inform about other VVCC services.
“The nurses have really stepped up in any way they can during the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Mary Jane Thompson, RN, and vice president of VVCC’s Board of Directors. “We’re still called upon by neighbors and friends for information and why our motto is: ‘Once a nurse, always a nurse.’”
We thank the retired nurse volunteers and VVCC volunteers for helping to comfort our neighbors during this critical time,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth. “The calls are heartwarming to our neighbors who are so thankful for their caring.”
NARNIA, which started in 2005, is a social organization that meets once a month, seven months out of the year. Their luncheons include informative speakers who present on healthcare or community organizations like Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition.
Penny Mathieu shown on her scooter.
March 25, 2020—Sedona—Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition continues to provide services during the coronavirus crisis to older adults in need. VVCC has established and implemented COVID-19 safety protcols for volunteers, neighbors (clients), and staff.
VVCC’s Call Center is screening neighbors and volunteers for flu-like and COVID-19 symptoms before taking and booking service requests.
“We are doing everything we can to protect our volunteers and neighbors. We are currently contacting over 800 clients to see if they need help now,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth.
“We thank the community, donors, supporters, and volunteers for all they are doing. Right now the best way the community can help support our efforts is to make a donation to help keep our vans running and support our transportation services.”
Linda M. Clark
Development & Communications Manager
299 Van Deren, Suite 2
Sedona, AZ 86336