SPRYE Sees Seniors Through the Pandemic
By Janice Llanes Fabry
The challenges faced during this time can seem insurmountable, especially for older Americans, but SPRYE managed to meet their needs and keep them connected.
“The most important thing SPRYE did was to stay engaged with members and let them know someone was on the other end of the line should they need help,” noted Executive Director Marie Johnson.
The membership-based organization for adults 60 years and older who want to live confidently at home in the community they love, SPRYE (Staying Put in Rye and the Environs) provides practical services, such as transportation and technology support. Social and cultural enrichment offerings include lectures, outings, and wellness programs. The support network, comprised of Johnson, a board, and 35 volunteers, has played a vital role in helping older adults remain an integral part of their communities in Rye, Port Chester, Rye Brook, and Harrison since 2011.
It has stayed open during the pandemic to field phone calls and requests from its 100-plus members. Volunteers shop and deliver groceries and medicine to their homes. Following strict protocols like wearing masks and having members sit in the back seat, they also provide transportation to doctor’s appointments, banks, and the post office.
For those situations where volunteers were concerned about driving during the shutdown, Johnson opened an Uber account so that seniors could get to where they needed to go regardless.
“SPRYE had lined up engaging and educational programs for the spring and summer, and then the pandemic hit. We strive to keep older adults engaged and reduce isolation, so this time has been challenging,” explained Johnson, whose background is in social services counseling in geriatrics. “We’ve offered online programs, phone calls, and Zoom visits in an effort to keep their spirits up. It’s all about delivering programs in a new and creative way.”
To ensure no one fell through the cracks, she supplied board members with names and telephone numbers of the seniors, whose average age is about 82, as a way of checking in.
Like many, members learned to Zoom and were able to enjoy activities such as gentle chair yoga and current event discussions. Johnson sent constant emails with entertaining and educational links. Fun and easy summertime recipes were circulated, and some members even learned to make biscotti from a YouTube segment.
Keeping older Americans, as Johnson likes to call them, connected is a particular concern of hers. To that end, SPRYE is in the planning stages of providing user-friendly laptops to this population. As Johnson said, “Keeping connected is the word of the day.”
Another pandemic-driven initiative revolves around virtual doctor appointments. Volunteers can walk members through these remote health care visits safely and in the comfort of their own homes.
Johnson went the extra mile to deliver masks, distribute magazines, and show up on the doorstep of a member turning 96 with cake, balloons, and a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”.
“With exercise, diet, better health care, and by staying engaged in their community with old and new friends, older adults have become… more spry,” she explained. “As they age more gracefully and more independently than ever before, we want to make sure they know we’re here for them.”
SPRYE’s 2020 annual Armchair Benefit, October 1, will be a virtual event. The honorees are the Harrison and Port Chester-Rye-RyeBrook EMS units. Sponsorships are available. To learn more, join SPRYE and inquire about membership options, call 481-5706.
CAPTION: Executive Director Marie Johnson outside SPRYE headquarters in Port Chestere