Connection in the time of COVID

February 4, 2021

This piece was originally included in the Winter 2021 Community Partner Connection newsletter of the Department of Social and Health Services.

With many programs going remote in 2020, Neighborhood House was concerned about keeping our elders plugged into their social circles and services. Most of these clients have limited financial resources and speak a first language other than English. To keep elders engaged in programs that offer meaningful social interactions and connect them to healthcare resources, DSHS benefits, and other crucial services during the pandemic, Neighborhood House staff, in our Family Caregiver Support Program, got creative with client engagement. We learned that there are many meaningful ways our staff can build community, provide opportunities for resource connection, and reduce feelings of isolation in diverse communities during the pandemic. Here are a few of them:

• VIRTUAL KARAOKE AND BINGO: With opportunities to socialize severely curtailed, Neighborhood House staff discovered an accessible way to reach groups of elderly clients remotely. Using the service Free Conference Call, Neighborhood House staff are successfully convening biweekly groups of clients to enjoy karaoke and bingo. Because clients only need a phone to participate, each meeting sees upwards of 25 clients joining the fun.

• VIRTUAL TEA-TIME: To engage our Somali clients, we scheduled virtual tea-time for clients and staff to connect, socialize, and provide support to one another. To make the event feel more special, Neighborhood House staff delivered a care package to clients’ homes ahead of time with ingredients to make Somali chai. We purchased tea and spices from a local Somali market and even included a special tea glass. Sharing tea is an important custom for our clients, and it was meaningful to continue this practice in a virtual setting.

• HOME DELIVERY OF CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE ITEMS: As a thank you to clients for participating in Neighborhood House services, such as virtual support groups, staff purchased culturally appropriate food products and delivered them directly to clients’ homes. Amharic speakers, for example received bags of teff (a fine grain) and Vietnamese speakers received citron honey tea. Staff selected products that were popular in each cultural community and purchased the items from local businesses. These small tokens of recognition had large benefits in terms of incentivizing client participation, affirming clients’ cultures and bringing joy to clients during an isolating and scary time.

More about the Neighborhood House Family Caregiver Support Program

Neighborhood House’s Family Caregiver Support Program, or FCSP, helps adults with disabilities and older adults (age 55+) who have unpaid caregivers. Program services include coordinating respite care, assistance with benefits enrollment, offering caregiver trainings, getting DME supplies, and delivering meals. During COVID-19, we are assisting with other needs such as providing gas cards to caregivers. Neighborhood House’s FCSP is unique because all staff are bilingual/bicultural and offer critical system navigation support for clients who may not be familiar with the U.S. healthcare and benefits systems. Staff can serve clients who speak Amharic, Arabic, Cambodian/Khmer, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tigrinya, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. For more information about FCSP or other Neighborhood House Aging and Disability Services, please contact Emy Haruo, Aging and Disability Resource Manager by email at emyh@nhwa.org or (206) 422-6493.