Nonprofits help Phoenix youth connect elderly with COVID-19 vaccines
The immense loss the COVID-19 pandemic brought worldwide did not spare Phoenix nonprofit Duet: Partners in Health and Aging, which serves senior citizens in the Valley. Its founder Dosia Carlson died at the age of 91 in January from complications of the virus.
The same kind of tragedy affected students served by Elevate, a nonprofit that supports K-12 youth in underserved communities. COVID-19 disproportionately killed people of color and low-income people in areas Elevate serves, such as south Phoenix, leaving many students grappling with the trauma of losing a family member.
The groups are collaborating and creating a bridge between the people they serve. The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust awarded the nonprofits $40,000 to help get seniors across the Valley vaccinated, especially those who are homebound or lack an internet connection.
The two nonprofits see it as an opportunity to foster community between their different demographics.
“Both organizations already understood the powerful benefits of connecting young people to older adults,” said Ann Wheat, executive director of Duet. “It opens the door for a conversation with someone who comes from a different background from you.”
Seniors who need assistance making an appointment, arranging transportation or scheduling a home vaccination with Maricopa County will be able to work with the nonprofits to get vaccinated. Elevate’s adult students will provide rides, while Duet will work out the details of their appointments.
Those looking to make an appointment for themselves or a loved one can call Jasmine Hall at 480-510-8708. Registration is open to all seniors in the Valley, and Wheat said Duet will work to secure accommodations for any specific needs, like arranging for pick up in a larger vehicle or arranging for a home vaccination.
“We haven’t had a case where we were not able to have that solution,” Wheat said.
Many of the students Elevate works with are coping with the loss of loved ones and elders in their community, executive director Dalila Gamper said. Gamper lost her own grandfather to the disease, and she saw how losing a treasured relationship affected her family.
For much of the pandemic, her grandfather was isolated in his nursing home. Even when he was dying, only adults were allowed to see him, meaning her children didn’t get to say goodbye.
“This pandemic caused a bit of a wedge, a separation with older family members,” Gamper said.
Even before the pandemic, seniors Duet served struggled with isolation. The pandemic compounded that, Wheat said. People who once had home visits from services like Meals on Wheels could no longer chat with their delivery driver, and those in nursing homes could no longer have visitors.
This vaccination program aims to bridge people from different generations, foster new relationships and better support the needs of seniors. Elevate stays in touch with its students long term and encourages a lifelong passion for serving others, Gamper said.
“I feel like a lot of time the older generation feels left out,” Gamper said. “At our foundation, we’re all about relationships and community. We want to show that they have a lot of wisdom they can impart on young people.”
Right now, all communities are in need of healing, she said, and she hopes this will help all involved heal and reconnect socially.
“There’s this sense of, ‘OK, how do we do this again?’ with engaging with people socially,” she said. “So yes, you receive services, but you have something to give. No matter your age or your socioeconomic status, you have something to give. It’s a push for our community to be aware of what others need.”
‘Like a pebble thrown into the pond’
Both Gamper and Wheat hope the vaccination drive will have positive results outside of simply getting people vaccinated. Communities of color have been wary of getting the vaccine because of a strained relationship with the health care system rooted in systemic inequity, Gamper said.
“In our underserved communities, some of the things we’ve heard is that there is a real fear of all things medical, in the sense that there’s a distrust between them and the medical community for valid reasons,” she said.
She hopes the vaccination program can be a conduit to getting more people the care that they need while serving as a source for community.
Meanwhile, Wheat said that she wants to expand Duet’s reach and connect with communities that it doesn’t work with as often, like south Phoenix.
“What we learned is that our reach was very limited,” Wheat said. “South Phoenix has not been as equally represented or served in this regard. We want to provide our vitally- needed, free-of-charge services to the whole spectrum of our community. We recognized there are communities that we have not served as well as others.”
Wheat said that while they’ve always tried to bring services to elderly residents of the Valley, it’s a lot of ground to cover on their own. Elevate’s work in those communities is helping them to extend their presence into those neighborhoods, she said.
Wheat and Gamper said they hope the program inspires volunteers to see things from a different perspective and have conversations that may not have started otherwise — as well as spark an interest in young people to work with the elderly. There’s no telling what could happen when people from all generations come together to help, Wheat said.
“It’s like a pebble thrown into the pond,” she said. “And we’re excited to see those ripples come out of it.”
Megan Taros covers south Phoenix for The Arizona Republic. Have a tip? Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megataros. Her coverage is supported by Report for America and a grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation.
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