It’s almost like we haven’t left
At this point in time when we’re all coping with the effects of social isolation, Pine Tree Society’s Adult Support Services team has launched remote programming to engage their clients in maintaining connections with friends, building healthy habits and independent living skills and staying focused on personal goals while at home.
People with disabilities are vulnerable to experiencing social isolation in the best of times. In these challenging times of social distancing, isolation is particularly difficult for people with disabilities. The accompanying stress and feelings of loneliness can rapidly compound and lead to depression and increased health issues, including cardiovascular disease.
“Every morning, people who would normally attend any one of our community support programs now join together via video chat,” said Shelley Zielinsky, director of Pine Tree Society’s Adult Support Services. “It’s almost like we haven’t left. The same rapport, big smiles, jokes and laughter now exist through technology instead of being together physically. It’s something we all look forward to and it is so beneficial.”
A participant’s family member shared this feedback soon after this virtual program began: “Jonathan has enjoyed your sessions this week and looks forward to seeing you all every morning. He plans his morning around it.”
Because it brings together people from all three of Pine Tree Society’s Adult Support Services programs, it also provides the chance to virtually meet new people, engage in different ways and find common interests. People enjoy their morning beverage together and the conversation begins by checking in to hear how everyone is doing, then transitions to getting everyone moving with a series of stretches.
“The best part is that some of the people who already have familiar movement routines are leading the stretches and getting everyone limber and moving with only occasional support from our staff,” Shelley continued.
Next, the group participates together in a selected activity for the day. From cooking to interactive games to money management, every activity is fully accessible and adapted to each individual’s unique needs.
“One activity could touch on several different things,” Shelley explained. “If it’s cooking, for example, we incorporate why it’s important to wash your hands and talk about stove safety. If it’s money management, we practice making a transaction and getting the correct change as well as how to not flash your wallet around in public spaces. Some people have goals around learning how to say hello and have a conversation. Even though this is all now happening virtually, we’re providing a tremendous benefit of reducing social isolation and offering the opportunity to build new relationships.”
Many people have the goal to get outside and explore nature so Pine Tree Society created a way for the group to do that virtually though Shelley bringing her cell phone outside to take everyone on a virtual walk.
“We enjoyed some virtual fresh air by walking together with the video on my cell phone looking at a river and where it had flooded, some patches of snow still on the ground as well as the sky, clouds, trees and birds,” said Shelley. “Simultaneously, another person in our group walked their neighborhood with their cell phone which gave us the chance to see a new landscape and talk about who had already seen deer and turkey at their homes this spring.”
The daily video chats conclude by learning about something new in the world and how the larger world connects to home. For example, the group toured the Cincinnati Zoo online and learned about a porcupine from Brazil and compared it to Maine porcupines and how they are similar and different from one another.
“It’s fun,” she said. “We’re able to interact and engage with each other like we normally would and we’re really seeing how this brings a parallel level of enjoyment to being together. If we can’t be with each other in person, this is truly the next best thing and keeps us connected during this challenging time of isolation.”