MENDHAM, NJ – Two teenagers from Mendham have found a way to connect with older people isolated by COVID, thanks to a special reading program they developed.
It all started when Gabriella Ager, 16, a junior at West Morris Mendham High School and her brother Eli, 13, an eighth grader at Mountain View Middle School, came up with the idea of connecting virtually with older people during the pandemic.
This is how “Bringing Stories to Seniors” came to life, a few of his friends also volunteered to read.
“I am a chiropractor in Denville and I was able to overcome the pandemic,” their mother Danielle Ager wrote to Patch. “I was amazed at how scared the elderly were to leave their homes and how little computer and technical skills they had.”
Ager said that when her children came to her with the idea, she was very proud of them for thinking and executing.
“We found that the tours were limited and aimed at finding a way for seniors to connect with the community by reading over the phone,” Gabriella Ager wrote on her website about the Bringing Stories To Seniors program.
“We understand that some baby boomers are not tech savvy and may find it difficult to use smartphones, tablets or online ordering tools,” she continued.
Ager began reading to an elderly person whom she and her brother knew very well, their grandmother Judith Ager.
“It was a way for us to connect during COVID,” wrote Gabriella Ager, reading a link she and her grandmother share, “and I started to realize I could apply that to other old people who couldn’t or didn’t read on their own. I don’t have a smartphone. ”
Since the sibling team started their reading program, they have read to seven seniors over the phone across the region, she told Patch.
Some live in their homes and others live in Fox Hill condominiums in Rockaway.
“We read short stories,” she said.
Three of the seniors they read had dementia or Alzheimer’s and one is in a wheelchair.
“Sometimes,” Ager added, “I have to reintroduce myself every week if they don’t remember.”
“I ask them if they have any requests,” Ager explained, with two recent “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber another.
Ager said the Chabad she volunteered with contacted Brightview Nursing Home in Randolph on their behalf; and their mother said that another nursing home in Pennsylvania had just contacted them with interest in their program.
One of the ways she and her brother are also helping, Ager said, is with a delivery service, where they drop off books to the elderly at Mendham Borough Library.
“We are always looking for more volunteers and more seniors who we can offer our services to who want,” she said.
How would you like to volunteer to read to seniors over the phone? or ask one of the Bringing Stories To Seniors volunteers to read to a senior in your life?