With the rush for many to receive COVID vaccines, seniors in our community have been at risk of being left behind. But because of an innovative program through the Yonkers Office for the Aging and help from local teens through Yonkers Partners in Education (YPIE), that risk is being avoided.
“There has been much misinformation about the vaccines and challenges for our seniors to access the vaccine sites,” said Kelly Chiarella, Director, Yonkers Office for the Aging. “We wanted to be sure our seniors had the information and access to vaccines in a way that would work best for them.”
Yonkers Office for the Aging was the first in New York State to pilot an in-home vaccination program, where they worked with a telehealth pharmacy to vaccinate seniors in their homes. The Office for the Aging provides a comprehensive array of community support services to the City of Yonkers residents 60 and over.
“We started with one of our senior housing partners and set a goal to reach hundreds of seniors for our pilot program,” said Kelly. “To reach this number of seniors in a short timeframe and answer the questions they might have, we knew we needed to establish an organized phone outreach program.”
The Yonkers Office for the Aging has had a close partnership with YPIE for many years. The Yonkers NNORC (Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) realized early on during COVID that seniors were becoming isolated and that technology was just one of the ways seniors could stay in contact with their friends and families. The NNORC joined forces with YPIE to establish the YPIE Tech Squad, a group of talented high school students who help Yonkers seniors use their smart devices to stay connected to their loved ones during the pandemic.
After receiving a request to help with this vaccine effort, the YPIE team quickly reached out to the YPIE Scholars team.
“We had more than 20 students each day over the course of three days who made calls to seniors, informing them about the COVID vaccines, answering questions, and booking appointments for a homebound vaccine,” said Max Silverman, Director, College Readiness, YPIE. “We created a communications chatroom called ‘Vaccine Heroes,’ and asked any of our interested students to join. The response was overwhelming: students wanted to do something to help our community navigate this crisis.”
“By the third day, all 500 seniors had been registered for a vaccine appointment,” said Max. “Our students really felt good about their role in making this happen.”
“The students got a good taste of the vaccine hesitancy and learned how to speak to these seniors about the vaccine,” stated Kelly.
“Helping these seniors get their vaccine made me feel like we were finally near the end of this pandemic,” said Citlalli, YPIE College Success student. “By helping these seniors get their vaccine, not only would they be safe to go outside again and see their loved ones, but everyone else could soon get their vaccines as well. Being a part of Vaccine Heroes was definitely a step in the right direction.”
“Since the pilot, we have confirmed in-home vaccination appointments for 2600 seniors -- the majority of the seniors we serve that are homebound,” stated Kelly. “The YPIE students were very willing, very attentive. They listened to the directions, then just wanted to get to work.”
Sally Pinto, Program Director, Yonkers NNORC, leads the effort to connect the YPIE Tech Squad with seniors in the Yonkers Community. “That’s why we started with YPIE almost a year ago to establish the YPIE Tech Squad. We knew the students would know the technology and be a perfect fit for our seniors. They are always willing to learn something new and have also learned how to be more patient and talk a little slower -- all this culminating in these vaccine calls. They have been wonderful.”