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Friday, March 11, 2011

Students and Seniors Connect Through “Staples Cares”

Students and Seniors Connect Through “Staples Cares”
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – A visit to his grandmother in Florida helped a local student develop an in-home services program that is now assisting senior citizens in Westport.

“Staples Cares”, the brainchild of Staples High School senior Adam Yormark, offers to change and replace smoke detectors and batteries in the homes of Westport senior residents on Sunday, March 13, in conjunction with the daylight savings change. Twenty-five Staples High student volunteers will perform these services, and related small household tasks. The program is guided and supported by the Westport Department of Human Services, which is supplying the batteries, new detectors (as required), and other small equipment needs. The program launched as a pilot in Fall 2010.

“I felt like there was a disconnect between high school students and senior citizens in town,” said Yormark, “so I created this program to bridge the gap and create an intergenerational connection and understanding. The idea came to me when I was in Florida visiting my grandmother and fixing a clock for her. As I put the clock up on the wall, it hit me that we could provide services like this that were easy for us students to perform but which may be challenging to seniors.”

Yormark took the idea to Staples High Principal John Dodig who suggested he contact the Department of Human Services. Terry Giegengack, Assistant Director of Client Services for the Westport office recalled her first meeting with the ambitious 17-year-old. “Adam wanted to make a positive difference in the community and had this small group of interested students behind him but no contacts. Our department has a list of over 500 senior households. From the list, our staff called about 35 seniors we felt could really use the help and ten signed on to have services performed during the fall daylight savings changeover, last November.”

In speaking with senior residents, the staffers discovered that many did not even have detectors. Using donated funds, the department agreed to cover the cost of these units and the students provided the installation.

Services were not limited to battery changing and detector installation. “A woman last fall asked for my help with a broken watch,” said Yormark. “I was able to fix it and save her the repair cost. Another woman asked for help setting up and operating a coffee maker and an answering machine. These are simple, quick things we can do that they are not able to accomplish.”

Giegengack said the visits were well received. “The seniors loved talking to the students and found them very engaging and helpful.”

Doris Fable, 88, was one of the senior citizens who benefited from a service call last fall. “They were nice young people,” she said. “They came when they said they would, reset my clocks for daylight savings and changed the batteries in one of my smoke detectors. It’s hard to get up on a stool and change these things. They were quick and efficient and brought their own step ladder.”

Patty Clark, 80, was another senior that received a visit. “The fire department put our initial smoke detectors in. The students did a wonderful job servicing them. You don’t want anyone having a problem with their detectors,” she said.

Based on the positive feedback from the fall, Yormark and Giegengack agreed the program deserved to be formally rolled out this March. Human Services staff called all seniors currently receiving home-delivered meals, people who received a visit last year and other seniors including those receiving heat assistance. Yormark also sought seniors through local churches and synagogues.

As of this writing, 13 senior citizens had signed up according to Yormark, and he expected more to come onboard.

“It’s not easy for seniors to just accept people coming into their home,” said Giegengack. “The exposure the program gets will help open doors and expand the service.”

To the students’ credit, many of the seniors from the fall, Doris Fable among them, are welcoming student volunteers back. “This time around, I wanted a combination smoke detector CO2 tester. Adam said there would be no problem. It would be great if this program can be offered every season, to be sure equipment is in top operating form.”

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