Staples students make 'Time' to help seniors Sunday
A visit to his grandmother in Florida helped a Westport high school student develop an in-home services program that now helps local senior citizens.
"Staples Cares," the brainchild of Staples High School senior Adam Yormark, is a program that involves high school students who are available to change and replace smoke detectors and batteries in the homes of older Westport adults on Sunday -- the day those updates are recommended in conjunction with the change to Daylight Savings Time.
Twenty-five Staples High student volunteers will perform these services, as well as other small household tasks. The program is guided and supported by the Westport Department of Human Services, which is supplying the batteries, new smoke detectors (as required) and other small equipment needs. The program launched as a pilot last fall.
"I felt like there was a disconnect between high school students and senior citizens in town," said Yormark, "so I created this program to bridge the gap and create an inter-generational connection and understanding. The idea came to me when I was in Florida visiting my grandmother and fixing a clock for her. As I put the clock up on the wall, it hit me that we could provide services like this that were easy for us students to perform but which may be challenging to seniors."
Yormark took the idea to Staples Principal John Dodig, who suggested he contact the Department of Human Services. Terry Giegengack, assistant director of client services for the Westport department, recalled her first meeting with the ambitious 17-year-old.
"Adam wanted to make a positive difference in the community and had this small group of interested students behind him, but no contacts. Our department has a list of over 500 senior households," Giegengack said. "From the list, our staff called about 35 seniors we felt could really use the help and 10 signed on to have services performed during the fall daylight savings changeover, last November."
In speaking with older residents, the town staffers discovered that many did not even have detectors. Using donated funds, the department agreed to cover the cost of these units and the students did the installation.
Services were not limited to battery changing and detector installation.
"A woman last fall asked for my help with a broken watch," said Yormark. "I was able to fix it and save her the repair cost. Another woman asked for help setting up and operating a coffee maker and an answering machine. These are simple, quick things we can do that they are not able to accomplish."
Giegengack said the students' help was well received. "The seniors loved talking to the students and found them very engaging and helpful."
Doris Fable, 88, was one of the senior citizens who benefited from a service call last fall. "They were nice young people," she said. "They came when they said they would, reset my clocks for Daylight Savings and changed the batteries in one of my smoke detectors. It's hard to get up on a stool and change these things. They were quick and efficient, and brought their own step ladder."
Patty Clark, 80, was another senior who was assisted by the Staples Cares volunteers. "The Fire Department put our initial smoke detectors in. The students did a wonderful job servicing them. You don't want anyone having a problem with their detectors," she said.
Based on the positive feedback from the fall, Yormark and Giegengack agreed the program deserved to be formally rolled out this March. Human Services staff called all seniors currently receiving home-delivered meals, people who got help last year and other seniors including those receiving heat assistance. Yormark also sought older adults who might need help through local churches and synagogues.
As of Wednesday evening, 13 senior citizens had signed up according to Yormark, and he expected more to sign up.
"It's not easy for seniors to just accept people coming into their home," said Giegengack. "The exposure the program gets will help open doors and expand the service."
To the students' credit, many of the seniors from the fall, Fable among them, are welcoming student volunteers back. "This time around, I wanted a combination smoke detector-CO2 tester," she said. "Adam said there would be no problem. It would be great if this program can be offered every season, to be sure equipment is in top operating form."
Those interested in having Staples Cares students come to their homes mid-morning Sunday to help with the seasonal tasks of changing clocks and replacing smoke detector batteries should call the Department of Human Services at 203-341-1050 to make an appointment.