Finding Our Way

Peggy Palmiter

When I walked out of the Lifespan office at Trinity Presbyterian Church on March 13th, I had no real idea what was before us.  We moved staff to working remotely, we cancelled our in person session of Lifespan Academy, and we all thought this would be temporary.  Surely this wouldn’t last long?  We just needed some short term strategies.

Then we began to understand the true danger of our situation.  We heard from first responders and health care providers all around us who were asking us to please stay home and stay safe in order to help them and their patients stay alive.  It seems so long ago and the horror we felt when we heard their stories caused all of us to rally around the idea of a unified country that would come together and fight together.  At Lifespan, I began learning more about Zoom than I ever really wanted to know.  I spent more and more time working to get our older adults connected and getting the right equipment.  I now can log into computers and talk Zoom tech like an old hand.  But we sometimes forget the uncertainty with which we began.  

The months of April and May were about two questions.  First, how do we get as many older adults connected through technology as possible and find  them interesting and valuable content? How do we overcome the barriers this format puts in front of us and still provide what our folks were yearning to have?   We succeeded in creating a LOL program – Lifespan OnLine – for our educational component.  We launched a full Summer Session, with many of the content all of our Lifespan folks wanted most.   We do have live line dancing and Tai Chi and yes, you can do technology training over Zoom. The summer proved to us and our older adults that the format, while not the same as hugs and in person laughter, could provide a connection that is desperately needed.

For many of our older adults LOL became a critical emotional lifeline.  As we struggle against COVID-19 and our Lifespan participants continue to be vulnerable, we understand more fully how important our online connections and classes have become.  We work every single day to get one more older adult connected, one more older adult engaged, one more older adult the equipment they need.   And we have proven every single day that older adults are capable and competent at using technology for their emotional survival.  We still have some parts of the Lifespan family that we are working to connect and we welcome a whole new group of older adults from anywhere their living rooms are located.

Our efforts regarding Medical Escort Transportation have been more complicated.  As we talked with our volunteer drivers and reached out to our older adult riders, two things became clear.  In the beginning, they and their doctors were postponing any non-emergency medical appointments.  Their need for transportation was temporarily suspended as well as our ability to provide it.  Our volunteers were in agreement with our initial decisions to suspend the program as many of them are themselves older adults and they also felt at risk.  But as time has gone on, that picture has changed.

Over the last three months we have discussed our options with MET and keep coming to the same conclusions.  Because our volunteers are using their vehicles and because our older adults need assistance, and because we “escort” the older adult into the office – all of the things that made MET the preferred option for our older adults and volunteers – these things had now become barriers to operating safely.  We refer our older adults to Jewish Family and Career Services, which is still operating a transportation program with staff and buses, but I can tell you that our volunteers, staff and board all feel a tremendous loss, as we know our older adult riders do as well.  We hope to be able to bring back the program when a vaccine is a part of the equation.

Many of you have asked about our financial status and I wanted to talk about that briefly.  First and foremost, we are unbelievably grateful to the congregational partners who financially support Lifespan and continue to do so in the difficult time!  Your support is part of why we are able to do what we are doing.  We have received a grant from the Cumberland/ Vinings Rotary Club that has helped us provide equipment for older adults who don’t have what they need to connect.  We were able to take advantage of a small SBA loan to provide a bit of cash during this transition.  And, most importantly, our Lifespan participants themselves have made sure their donations continue along with their registrations.  And then there is our wonderful Sally Miller Trust, which provided us with a cushion to allow us to serve our Lifespan family.

None of us can say where this path will lead.  We talk alot with our older adults about staying in the moment – being present – and seeing the joy and value of where we are right now.  Not an easy thing in the midst of fear, uncertainty and grief.  But perhaps it is a lesson for all of us.  What we have is only what is in front of us and we can see it clearly through the love and grace of God.  Because of all of you we are doing just that.  Thank you for your help and allowing us to keep building communities that welcome us as we age.