LOWELL — In response to local nonprofits reporting vulnerable clients struggling from the fallout of mandated isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation awarded a series of grants to combat social- and emotional-health issues.
When the pandemic struck in March, children and adults with disabilities at Concord’s Minute Man Arc for Human Services and Seven Hills Pediatric Center, in Groton, were suddenly cut off from family and friends. Both nonprofits received GLCF grants to purchase iPads to enable their clients to communicate with loved ones and outside professionals.
With an additional grant, Strongwater Farm Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Tewksbury revived its Visiting Program, which brings therapy horses to patients in long-term care and hospice facilities.
“The pandemic’s required social isolation and resulting loneliness have left our community with potentially serious mental- and physical-health consequences,” said Jay Linnehan, GLCF president and CEO. “Funding nonprofits’ innovative methods to connect clients with friends, family, health care providers, and even remote social services, provides much needed emotional support during this difficult time.”
GLCF helped Minute Man Arc for Human Services (MMAHS) purchase 25 iPads that were distributed to clients living in eight group homes, according to Stephanie Parish, chief development officer. MMAHS provides lifelong care to 850 children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Bedford, Carlisle, Concord and Littleton.
“We’re big on community inclusion and activities such as working and volunteering,” Parish said. “Lockdown has been a bitter pill for our clients.”
Prior to COVID, clients living in group homes would come to the MMAHS program site in Concord five days a week to receive physical therapy, attend classes and recreational activities, or travel to job sites.
“We had to curtail all those in-person services in mid-March,” Parish said. “Very quickly we rearranged our classes to an online format, but it became apparent that the technology in our group homes was insufficient for day-long programming.”
Some group homes have as many as seven adults living there, so trying to crowd everyone around one tablet did not work. The grant helped to expand programs, with clients now Zooming on their own iPads.
MMAHS provides virtual programs like educational classes, yoga and aerobics, and recreational activities like bingo and musical sing-a-longs.
“Now, when they bring up a class on their iPads, they can see their friends again,” Parish said. “It has been really critical to our clients’ well-being.”
Children living at Seven Hills Pediatric Center have also benefited from a GLCF grant to purchase five iPads, plus five tall standers to hold the devices, according to Elizabeth Vittum, assistant vice president of development for the Seven Hills Foundation.
An 83-bed skilled nursing center in Groton, Seven Hills serves disabled and medically complex children. The residents are nonambulatory, with the majority ranging in age from infancy up to 22. All are under the cognitive age of 24 months.
In March, the facility was locked down due to COVID-19. Families were not allowed to visit, and children had to remain in their rooms.
“That not only impacted our residents’ emotional health, but added to the trauma of families who suddenly couldn’t visit their children,” said Seven Hills Director of Education Monica Kleeman. “Now, we’re using iPads to connect children with their families again. We’re doing 125 FaceTime calls per week.”
The iPads have become a huge part of life at Seven Hills and staff are getting more and more creative about how to use the devices, according to Kleeman. For example, they recently added an iPad to a traveling coffee cart set up to deliver snacks and coffee to staff in their offices. They are also using iPads for resident-to-resident visits, so the children can see their friends.
“We’ve all learned so much and embrace technology so much more now,” Vittum said. “These iPads have really changed the way we run our programs.”
Strongwater Farm Therapeutic Equestrian Center’s programs have also benefited from its GLCF grant. Serving the special-needs community in northeastern Massachusetts, Strongwater provides professionally supervised equine-assisted activities and therapies at its Tewksbury facility, according to Executive Director Maria Antonioni.
By using its grant to buy a new horse trailer, the nonprofit plans to take its popular equine activities and therapies on the road — once the pandemic recedes.
“Our Visiting Program grew out of our previous work at Tewksbury Hospital,” Antonioni said. “We were taking therapy horses to the hospital and everybody loved it. We decided to expand that model and bring horses to other hospitals, schools and residential programs — to people who can’t come to us.”
Then the pandemic started.
Individuals can still visit the Tewksbury barn and riding center for therapy, though school groups and other organizations are not allowed and all visits to outside facilities are on hold.
“Before the pandemic, I was getting calls from hospice owners and other group homes,” Antonioni said. “Their patients are suffering, often from terminal illnesses. Now, with coronavirus, they are in isolation. That’s the last thing anybody wants or needs at the end of life.”
To date, GLCF has awarded more than $2.9 million to local nonprofits to address the social- and emotional-health issues created by the pandemic.
“The foundation is here to respond to the needs of residents throughout Greater Lowell and northern Middlesex County,” said GLCF Vice President for Philanthropy Howard Amidon. “We look forward to continuing this critical work long after COVID-19 subsides.”
— to www.lowellsun.com