Everyday Heroes

Community Rallies To Help Isolated Seniors During Pandemic

Their slogan speaks volumes: "A virus will not tear us apart. We are the medicine."

Some say that we'll emerge from the coronavirus pandemic stronger than before. Whether that's true or not, it's been uplifting to see how communities have been coming together during the crisis.

From passing out 10,000 sandwiches to hungry neighbors, to gathering medical supplies from local hotels, heroes have been emerging from every corner of the country to help those in need.

That includes residents of Baltimore, MD who recently launched an initiative to get senior citizens the mental health support they need to make it through the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Baltimore City councilmembers Zeke Cohen and Kristerfer Burnett teamed up with a few local organizations to start the Baltimore Neighbors Network.

Local officials started the BNN to provide support to elderly residents in the community during the pandemic. Baltimore Neighbors Network

BNN connects trained volunteers with local seniors who are especially vulnerable to not only contracting Covid-19, but who also run the risk of becoming depressed and anxious as they self-isolate to protect themselves from the virus.

"People who are already struggling with trauma, with anxiety, with depression and have these conditions where they have to stay to themselves? It gets much much worse," Cohen told WBAL-TV.

The first phase of the program is based on peer-to-peer support. Volunteers from every different walk of life are trained on what's called "inclusive listening," where they pay attention to the person's experience and needs without placing blame or making them feel embarrassed.

"Teachers, pastors, bar owners -- just everyday Baltimoreans," Shantay Jackson, the executive director of the Baltimore Community Mediation Center, said of the people who have signed up for trainings.

After the training, the volunteers reach out to at-risk residents by phone and ask them various questions, like how they're feeling, if they've had enough to eat, and if they're rationing their medications.

Baltimore residents from all walks of life have signed up to volunteer with BNN.

If, after speaking with someone, the volunteers sense that further resources are needed, they can notify mental health ambassadors who are in the network, including licensed mental health providers and social workers – all who have agreed to provide their services free of charge.

"Communities are coming together, regardless of ideation, belief system, regardless of economic status or sector, and saying, 'What do we need to do to get through this?'" Jackson told The Baltimore Sun.

One of the services the BNN will provide is getting food to people who need it. Pro Bono Resources

Along with the Mediation Center, organizations that have signed on to help include The Pro Bono Counseling Project, the University of Maryland School of Social Work and various other leaders in the community.

City officials see the network as a safety net that's being built up around the people who are most in danger and most isolated: the elderly.

"We are facing an epidemic of isolation and loneliness," Cohen said. "Fortunately, we live in a city that is scrappy, that has a huge heart and anytime there is a crisis, Baltimoreans respond and step up."

What an amazing effort to make sure the community's at-risk residents stay safe. Hopefully, other cities will take Baltimore's lead and start their own Neighborhood Networks.

How can you start something good?

If you're interested in volunteering with the Baltimore Neighbors Network, click here for more information on how to get started. If you're someone who needs the support of a listening ear, click here.

You may not be a trained expert, but anyone can listen. Do you know an elderly person who lives alone, maybe a relative or neighbor? We bet a friendly phone call will make their day and allow them to feel less isolated in this challenging time. You might also find out that they need additional help, like someone to pick up groceries or medications. You'll definitely make a difference for them at a time when they may be feeling anxious and even scared.

The Conversation
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