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A Mission in Motion: Little Brothers offer virtual activties

A senior holds a handmade ladybug. Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly Upper Michigan Chapter is launching a new program with virtual activities conference calls, friendly mail and other engagements to keep seniors connected during this time of isolation and confinement while following social distancing measures. (Photo courtesy of Carol Korpela)

MARQUETTE — To combat isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 outbreak, a new program offers virtual activities, telephone reassurance and friendship mail for seniors in the Upper Peninsula.

Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Upper Michigan Chapter is launching “Mission in Motion,” a new initiative that allows volunteers to engage with seniors and create friendships while following social distancing practices.

With over 50 volunteers already expressing interest, the organization is still in its beginning stages of the program with a goal of serving at least 175 elderly Forever Friends, who normally receive in-home visits annually, said Carol Korpela, program director of Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Upper Michigan chapter.

When the pandemic flooded the news, Korpela and officials started meeting regularly to discuss how this virus would impact programs and services.

After canceling Easter dinners and small group activities to ensure people’s safety, officials knew that they’d need something to replace those programs, Korpela noted.

“(The goal is) to continue serving our original mission of relieving isolation and loneliness among the elderly,” Korpela said. “Even though we are practicing social distancing, we are also practicing distant socializing. We are committed to serving our elderly friends in other ways. Social distancing may slow the spread of COVID-19 but it can come at the cost of loneliness. Our elderly friends were already isolated and lonely before social distancing. While we want to keep them safe, we also need to keep them interactive and engaged in their community. Our Mission in Motion activities enable that.”

Virtual activities include weekly conference calls with small groups of elderly Forever Friends who have interests in music, visual relaxation, trivia, reading and poetry; telephone reassurance allows seniors to stay connected to their community and neighbors while engaging in a friendly and calming conversation; and friendship mail encourages people to share letters, greeting cards, refrigerator art and more.

The first task in setting up virtual activities was figuring out the virtual part of it, simply due to the fact that some seniors don’t have access to computers, tablets or smartphones.

So including conference calls was a way to accommodate all participants. Activities, approved by input from the program’s participants, include a book club, trivia, bingo, Musical Mondays, a murder mystery game and visual relaxation.

Volunteer opportunities for this new program include lending a hand with virtual activities; telephone calls twice a week with a few Forever Friends; assisting seniors with picking up and delivering prescriptions and groceries from the store or Little Brothers’ pantry; medical transportation to and from doctor appointments; writing letters or making greeting cards for Easter or birthdays; and offering office support through handling phone calls, files, data entry and more.

Officials have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation on a daily basis and adjusting things along the way, Korpela said, adding that Little Brothers is still providing essential services of medical transportation and grocery delivery while taking necessary precautions.

“The feedback we’ve been getting from our elderly friends is that they’re scared and even more isolated than normal. It’s been wonderful to see on social media how people in the community are coming together,” Korpela said.

To get involved in volunteer opportunities, call 906-482-6944 or email michigan@littlebrothers.org. For more information, visit houghton.littlebrothers.org. To mail a letter to a Forever Friend, send a note to 527 Hancock St. , Hancock, Michigan, 49930.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.

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