Calling All Senior Citizens

Lions step up to get seniors set up for their shots

When the small community of Barkhamsted, Connecticut, got their first stock of vaccinations for their residents age 75 and over, Town Selectman (mayor) Don Stein knew seniors would need help navigating the online portal required to register for their shots. And he knew just who to turn to.

Barkhamsted Lions Senior Center
Barkhamsted Lions are heavily involved with the seniors in their small Connecticut community.

Litchfield County is a rural hamlet in the northwest corner of the state. Surrounded by towns that boast the lavish country estates of New York elites and Hollywood movers and shakers, Barkhamsted is decidedly more understated. “We’re a bedroom community,” says Stein. “We rely heavily on volunteers to get things done. That’s where organizations like Lions come into play.”

While the club was chartered in 1966, Barkhamsted Lions Club was nothing more than a handful of volunteers for years. But when they sponsored the construction of an ice-skating rink for a group of “young” residents (they were in their 30s and 40s) the appeal of Lions grew. “That group of guys was like, ‘Wow this organization is here to help us,’” says Stein. “Membership quickly went from about a half a dozen to 20 or 25 members,” he says. It doesn’t hurt that Dave Roberts, Past District Governor and president of the Barkhamsted Lions, is an effective recruiter.

“We find one of the best ways to seek out new Lions is to invite friends with a heart for service to a local community service event and the event sells them on becoming a Lion,” says Roberts.

Barkhamsted Lions stand behind boxes of food
In addition to helping seniors get vaccinated, Lions helped facilitate the USDA food box program in their community.

“He’s hard to say no to,” says Stein.

It’s a town of 3700 people and everyone knows the Lions now. They mainly support the local senior center, which runs entirely off of volunteers, and ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities). In fact, they’ve started branch clubs for each project in order to better serve them.

Roberts has taken the senior center under his wing. “Our senior center is lucky to have him,” says Lucille Delany, who turned 83 in February. Before COVID she and her husband went to lunch at the center on Tuesdays. Once a month the center hosted a potluck supper. “That was our social life, you know,” she says. “We met a lot of nice people there.”

When the pandemic hit, Lions helped in any way they could, including picking up and delivering prescriptions to seniors. “In the beginning of the pandemic, there was any number of seniors who didn’t want to leave the house,” says Stein. “So, the Lions and the town all collaborated to get people the support.”

Later, Lions learned about the USDA food box program and they began helping to volunteer with that, getting the boxes off the truck and into the hands of those who needed it. So, when the time came to coordinate the inoculation of Barkhamsted’s senior citizens, Stein knew exactly who to call on.

Stein knew that getting seniors to schedule their appointments online would require a team of trusted volunteers who could make a lot of calls in a short amount of time. They began by using the town’s voter registrar to identify and call everyone over age 75.

Volunteers were provided scripts on what to say and lists of seniors to call. They maintained social distance by calling from multiple venues across town. If no one answered, volunteers left detailed messages on how to call Town Hall if they needed assistance scheduling a vaccine appointment.

“Some seniors were lonely and just enjoyed talking, even though they didn’t need help scheduling their vaccine appointments,” says Roberts. “One senior mentioned that her husband had recently passed away and she wanted to donate all his used eyeglasses to Lions.”

When calls were completed, the call sheets and accompanying notes were faxed back to Town Hall.

So far they’ve scheduled close to 300 appointments for people.

“Seniors, they can’t always remember stuff,” says Delany. “I had already made my appointment by the time Dave called, but I was really impressed by the Lions helping out.” She had found out about the appointments from a number in the newspaper. But when she called the number, they referred her to an online portal. She had to call several people before getting through to someone who could help her make the appointment over the phone.

Lions have also volunteered to provide rides to the appointments for those who need them. “Many seniors don’t like to drive during the winter months or don’t have transportation,” says Roberts.

Delany and her husband are just grateful they have the center and look forward to when things open up again. “When we were younger we thought, ‘oh we’ll wait until we’re older,’” she says. “We didn’t think we were old enough to join a senior center. But once we did, we were so glad.”