By Stephanie Ntim
In one of the more trying years in recent memory, the brave and caring people who make up the Senior Services staff have faced the challenges presented by COVID-19 head-on, while optimistically preparing for a brighter tomorrow. Months since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, they have found unique ways to continue helping older adults in Forsyth County age with dignity, in their homes, for as long as possible.
Throughout the year Senior Services has continuously adapted programming to maintain safety precautions to help stop the spread and protect staff, volunteers, and participants–many of whom are at risk of severe illness from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. One of the largest programs, The Elizabeth and Tab Williams Adult Day Center, temporarily closed in April and remains closed to participants and volunteers. Before its closing, the center supported people in Forsyth County living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia by providing a safe, fun and nurturing place during the day where they engaged in supportive activities and avoided social isolation. When open, participants are cared for by staff who lead entertaining activities, serve nutritious meals, meet their hygiene needs and provide respite care in support of caregivers.
While the center remains closed for in-person, group activity, staff are still serving the participants they love. A dedicated team, including Personal Care Assistant Marlon Beedoe, works for the Williams Center with great compassion for participants. Despite restrictions limiting who enters the center, staff make daily wellness phone calls to participants, host virtual support groups for caregivers, and continue to provide meals, activity packets, and other essential items to families enrolled at the Williams Center.
During her 14-year career with Senior Services, Beedoe has made great connections with participants, primarily through her work with spa services to pamper and address the hygiene needs of participants enrolled at the Williams Center. While the center has been closed, she’s eagerly jumped in to assist in different parts of the agency. She found joy in delivering with Meals-on-Wheels, a program under Senior Services that delivers meals to seniors who cannot prepare their own. Initially Beedoe was unaware of the great impact Meals-on-Wheels had on so many seniors in the community. “Some days, we would take twenty-two boxes of meals to twenty-two different homes, and I thought wow, I am so proud of this organization that’s doing such a great job to help the community. That just brings so much joy my heart. They [the community] can’t reach us now, so we’re reaching to them.”
Beedoe and the rest of the Williams Center staff have also been reaching out (socially distanced) to families enrolled at the Williams Center through a drive-thru program. Every second Thursday of the month, participants and their families can drive to the Williams Center to receive care packages containing food, personal care, household help items, and activity packets. The drive-thru events are truly special to Beedoe. “When it [the drive-thru program] first came out, that was such a touching moment,” said Beedoe. “We hadn’t seen participants for the last six months, and just seeing them made us so emotional. It was touching for me.”
Beedoe acknowledges the emotional toll the pandemic has had on participants. She commends the new in-home respite care program launched through the Williams Center for supporting isolated seniors and their caregivers. “We now have staff members going into homes, where we can reach participants and try to stimulate them with what they usually do at the center—exercising, doing music and stuff like that. And I think that has been a blessing to caregivers, just to give them a couple of hours to do something for themselves.”
Throughout the challenges presented by COVID-19 Beedoe remains positive. When referring to the pandemic, she said, “This too will pass…we just have to keep a positive attitude.” She believes leaning on her faith and the words of encouragement and reassurance staff continue to share with participants and each other daily have helped tremendously in keeping an optimistic attitude. “We’ve faced tough times before. I know that as long as we stick together we’ll get through this one,” she said.
Beedoe maintains a steadfast loyalty to participants and their families even as the uncertainty continues, but this is nothing new. A couple of years ago, she helped a caregiver struggling with the passing of an uncle, who was a long-time participant at the Williams Center. Beedoe and the caregiver still speak to this day. “If it had not been for Senior Services, I wouldn’t have been able to know her and reach out to her.” She added, “We feel like we’re family [at Senior Services]. If one is hurting, everybody is hurting.”
In a challenging year, Beedoe is amazed by the public’s response to support seniors in the community. One of her favorite moments of the year was the annual Evening for Alzheimer’s Care event. “The money that we collect is going toward scholarships for people who cannot afford to come over [to the center]. And, that is so special because I get to go out there, trying to get people to contribute, and I look forward to it every year.”
To further the mission of Senior Services, Beedoe suggests that others consider supporting the organization financially, volunteering their time, and practicing safety measures proposed by the Centers for Disease Control. She is appreciative of how the community has helped the organization through projects such as Christmas in July and Remember in December. “It’s a blessing,” she said, “to have a community that always reaches out when we need them most.”
By showing great compassion to participants, staff members like Marlon Beedoe exemplify what it means to be of service to older adults in the community. Though fewer people can enter the Williams Center, the charge remains the same, help seniors live with dignity and age with purpose.