A local program that has worked to keep seasoned citizens who are deaf or hard of hearing engaged with the broader community during the COVID era recently was honored with statewide accolades.
The “Deaf Seniors Stay Connected” initiative and the Northern Virginia Resource Center (NVRC) that supports it on May 10 formally received an accolade from the Commonwealth Council on Aging. The state body presented its third-place Best Practices Award for 2022 to the initiative during a program at NVRC’s Pender Drive headquarters.
Supporters of the program have “really stepped up to the plate to meet the needs of older adults in these troubled times,” said Jennifer Disano, who serves on the board of the Commonwealth Council on Aging.
The committee evaluating award nominations was impressed that the design of the program used creativity to maintain COVID-era connectedness for seniors who were deaf or hard of hearing. Also praised were the program’s intergenerational aspects, which have “built mutual respect . . . [and] break down stereotypes,” Disano said.
The award came with a $2,000 contribution from Dominion Energy.
As initially conceived, the Deaf Seniors Stay Connected effort planned to have volunteers visit seniors’ homes or otherwise connect on a regular basis. The emphasis soon changed.
“COVID had us all make some pivots,” said Eileen McCartin, NVRC’s executive director since mid-2019 who noted that a number of advocacy groups and other agencies assisted her organization’s efforts.
The evolution led to a once-a-week, drop-in online meeting, a chat program that connected deaf seniors and allow them to converse with students (college-age and older) studying to be sign-language interpreters.
“This proved to be the right approach during this strange COVID time we’re living in,” McCartin said. “It was a win-win situation and continues to be for both groups.”
Those who are studying sign language with the goal of becoming interpreters praised the effort. One, speaking via video at the May 10 forum, said that the seniors on the other end of the telecommunications line on Mondays were “so kind and patient with us,” pointing out mistakes without any judgment.
“Senior citizens are more willing to help and support” those learning sign language, another student said. “I appreciate that.”
The weekly meetings, which attract 15 or more participants, also now welcome those hard of hearing but not fully proficient in sign language. “It’s wonderful for every level of signer,” McCartin said.
Barbara Eger-Klatt, who serves as coordinator of the program, said it serves as a lifeline to ensure that older adults with hearing difficulties “are included and not isolated any more.”
“This program means a great deal to me,” she said.
The Best Practices Awards of the Commonwealth Council on Aging have been bestowed since 2006, and are designed to highlight programs that are innovative and can be replicated across Virginia, Disano said.
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For information on the Northern Virginia Resource Center, see the Website at www.nvrc.org.