By Jackie Fajt, communications coordinator at UPS Mid Atlantic District and co-chair of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council Executive Committee in Westmoreland County
When I was growing up, my grandmother lived down the street from me. I was lucky that I got to see her often, but she was also fortunate because we were able to take care of her. Having us nearby made it easier for her to stay in her home and keep her independence, something that she cherished very much.
Thousands of seniors in our region don’t have the same advantage my grandmother had. Many of them don’t have family members who live close by. Many don’t have a family at all. Growing older is already challenging, but doing it without the support of loved ones can make the experience more difficult, lonely and frightening. Throw in a global pandemic, and it can seem unbearable.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, we’ve seen just how vulnerable our senior population is. They’re at greater risk of getting sick. They’re more likely to feel isolated and depressed. As someone who has always advocated for seniors, I think it’s crucial, now more than ever, to raise awareness of this issue. It’s also important to recognize and celebrate organizations like United Way that give seniors the resources they need to get through trying times like these.
United Way ensures that at-risk seniors aren’t left behind.
Southwestern Pennsylvania has one of the largest senior populations in the country, with most women still assuming the primary caregiver role for their older parents and relatives. In Westmoreland County, United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) members have spent significant time supporting seniors and their caregivers. Through United Way’s Open Your Heart to a Senior program, trained volunteers can connect with older adults to help them remain independent. For many seniors, that independence means everything.
With COVID-19 upending all aspects of life, Open Your Heart to a Senior has been a lifeline for our elderly neighbors who don’t have other means of support. Volunteers with the program are taking on everything from wellness calls to shopping for groceries and other essential items and delivering them to seniors in need. It might be easy for most people to use curbside pickup or app-based services, but many seniors don’t have those luxuries. Without programs like Open Your Heart to a Senior, they would find it harder to get through this crisis.
There’s an immediate need for help.
Even before the pandemic, Open Your Heart to a Senior was on the front lines of helping older individuals in need. Volunteers would clean seniors’ homes, help with their landscaping or send them thoughtful cards. Even the smallest act of kindness can have an indelible impact on someone’s life.
The need facing our seniors has been heightened in recent months. With many Open Your Heart to a Senior volunteers being seniors themselves, many of our WLC members have stepped in to help. We’re also benefiting the program through monetary donations. Our WLC members can choose to donate half of their annual contribution to Open Your Heart to a Senior. Many even donate the full amount.
This is a cause that means so much not only to the WLC and the seniors we support, but also to their families. One woman who lives out of state told me that she wishes there was a similar program near her that could help her mom. That gives me greater appreciation for our mission and the critical services the program provides. I was fortunate to find a purpose that I can take pride in, and I know my grandparents would be proud, too.
To learn how you can get involved with Open Your Heart to a Senior, please visit unitedway4u.org/oyhs. Anyone who needs urgent assistance can contact United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline by dialing 2-1-1, texting their zip code to 898-211, or visiting pa211sw.org.