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Finding new ways to engage with seniors in nursing homes during COVID-19

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Young volunteers from Youth Corps Singapore are reaching out to the elderly through their YOLDEN Switch project.

The elderly have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 situation. 

Beyond being more vulnerable to the virus, their lack of tech-savviness also means many of them are separated from their usual social support groups. Things are especially difficult for seniors living in nursing homes as visits from family members have stopped since Apr 2. 

As part of their YOLDEN seniors befriending programme, Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) volunteers have been reaching out to the elderly in nursing homes since 2015, engaging them with art, as well as simple physiotherapy and sports. 

When their upcoming plans were halted due to COVID-19 and the circuit breaker, these youth involved in the YOLDEN organising committees came up with an idea to 'switch' to alternative methods of engaging the seniors. 

Hence, YOLDEN Switch was started at the beginning of March to continue the YOLDEN programme even during the circuit breaker.

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The team of over 10 volunteers meeting over Zoom to coordinate YOLDEN Switch. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YCS 

"The youths from the different EXCOs (organising committees) came together and decided to do something for the seniors in the nursing home since we cannot engage them physically, and they are missing these social interactions and being active," said YCS staff Eng Yiwen, 31. 

The first thing they started working on was an activity pack for the seniors. Volunteers sourced for colouring sheets, origami instructions and paper, and connect-the-dot exercises to compile into an activity booklet. 

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The activity pack included a paddle ball which seniors could design and use for some physical activity. 
PHOTO CREDIT: MORAL HOME FOR THE AGED SICK 

"The aim is to provide mind-stimulating activities that can help the seniors stay active and engaged in bedside activities when the volunteers are not able to enter," said Yiwen, who oversees YOLDEN efforts at the Thye Hua Kwan Nursing Home. 

The team also put together care packs for the nurses and frontline staff containing a thank you note and a small gift show appreciation for them. 

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The team prepared thank you notes for the nursing home frontline staff. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YCS 

After sourcing for all the items for the activity pack, the team met another challenge: As YOLDEN Switch was planned during the circuit breaker, they could not meet up to help pack the bags. 

With no other option available, Yiwen stepped up to the plate. All the items were delivered to her house, and with the help of her nephew on home-based learning, she prepared and packed all 197 senior activity packs and 393 nurses care packs over several days. 

The packs were delivered to the beneficiaries by the end of April. 

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Yiwen took a few days to prepare the packs, from stapling the booklets to packing the bags. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YCS 

Yiwen said: "The volunteers felt disappointed that they could not see through with the packing, but they were very happy to see it delivered to the seniors in the home. They got very excited when some of the homes sent back pictures with everyone very happy with it. 

"It's definitely worthwhile to see the seniors staying engaged as much as possible. I would say that my backaches are worth the time."

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Residents and staff at St. Andrew's Nursing Home (Henderson) appreciated the special gesture which they felt brought encouragement and hope during these uncertain times. 
PHOTO CREDIT: ST. ANDREW'S NURSING HOME 

After completing their first initiative, the YOLDEN Switch team is now looking to carry on engaging their senior friends through tele-befriending. 

"With the new measures in place, volunteers like us are unable to visit the seniors, which is something worrying because there are fewer engagement activities. We are also concerned for those who may not receive any calls" said Yiwen, who is also overseeing the digital engagement.

The team is now making arrangements with the homes to let them engage small groups of seniors digitally, and it seems the seniors are looking forward to seeing them again. 

"During the dry run session, one senior recognised a volunteer from a programme that ended last October. Another senior also came into the call and asked how the volunteer was doing," said Yiwen. 

The circuit breaker may be a challenging time for many of us, but it is encouraging to see more youths stepping up to ensure that different communities are taken care of.

For more activities you can be a part of during this circuit breaker, check out the Virtual Red Box by YCS. 

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YCS

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