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Halifax non-profit offers new skills to seniors in nursing homes amid COVID-19

Global News

Once a week, Global News will feature our local community partners to highlight how they are handling day-to-day operations during the novel coronavirus pandemic and how you can help.

With recent news of living conditions in nursing homes and growing-concerns of how seniors are coping in self-isolation due to COVID-19, one non-profit in Halifax hopes to bring some positivity to the world’s aging population.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Nothing ‘off the table’ in solving long-term care crisis, Trudeau says

Non-profit Seniors with Skills is on a mission to end the social isolation of seniors across the globe. It encourages seniors to get involved in hobbies from their retirement residences to gain new skills and avoid boredom.

Founder and executive director Jaya Manjunath was only a teenager when she created the organization as a part of a high school project.

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In its beginning stages five year ago, Manjunath and a few volunteers gathered to teach seniors in nursing homes how to knit and use computers to keep in touch with loved ones. Now, Seniors with Skills operates over 100 volunteer programs in Canada and the United States.

“I wanted to positively impact more seniors through volunteer efforts and I wanted to encourage more young people to run these programs at nursing homes,” says Manjunath.

“Our mission is to end social isolation of seniors on a global scale.”

READ MORE: More staff, better layouts: how to make long-term care homes ‘good living’

Seniors with Skills matches volunteers to local retirement residences using a free online application system. It also provides them with resources necessary to start a Seniors with Skills program at the residence.

Before COVID-19, Seniors with Skills were running their computer training sessions, as well as their card-making and knitting programs, with the items made donated to hospitals and hospices. Since the novel coronavirus pandemic caused lockdowns for most seniors homes, Seniors with Skills turned their attention to combat social isolation among the seniors they served — and the Online Buddy Program was born.

Seniors make cards pre-COVID-19 through the Seniors with Skills card-making program.
Seniors make cards pre-COVID-19 through the Seniors with Skills card-making program. Seniors with Skills

“Our volunteers are video chatting with seniors facing social isolation at nursing homes,” Manjunath says. “A group of our volunteers have been making pre-recorded videos of arts and crafts workshops and positive messages to play for seniors in nursing homes.”

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The organization has almost 200 volunteers signed up for the Online Buddy Program and Manjunath hopes to add more to their programs in Canada and United States. During these challenging times, Seniors with Skills is finding it difficult to balance between the number of seniors and volunteers available to reach out to them.

READ MORE: Halifax group starts letter-writing initiative for seniors facing loneliness amid COVID-19 pandemic

“It is a very difficult time for seniors right now,” says Manjunath. “The seniors we are speaking with at nursing homes have very limited social interaction on a day-to-day basis and are feeling very lonely. Many of them rarely leave their rooms and currently have no social interaction with people other than health-care professionals.”

Manjunath is looking to expand Seniors with Skills to more nursing homes in North America and introduce their programs to new locations — even reaching seniors living at home.

Seniors with Skills is currently working toward raising funds for purchasing and shipping technology to nursing homes who do not have the equipment to run their Computer Training Program. Monetary donations can be made through the Seniors with Skills website. They are also asking for donations from the public of computer devices. Anyone interested can email volunteering@seniorswithskills.org.

They are also recruiting more volunteers to spread Seniors with Skills to more locations in Canada. Anyone interested in joining the Seniors with Skills Online Buddy Program can learn more on their website. For seniors living at home interested in the programs offered by Seniors with Skills, or for anyone who may know a senior who would be interested, they can email volunteering@seniorswithskills.org.

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