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Jefferson Awards – Bay Area Community Center Reaches Homebound Seniors

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Jefferson Award winner Terry Englehart

Jefferson Award winner Terry Englehart

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Homebound senior citizens in the Bay Area have a way of making friends and staying connected without leaving their homes, thanks to a woman with a bright idea. This week’s Jefferson Award winner shows community is only a phone call away.

Rosalee Biasatti of Orinda suffers from multiple sclerosis and rarely leaves home, but can still “meet” with fellow seniors several hours a week.

“It’s a sense of community without having to get out of your house,” Rosalee explains.

Rosalee is part of a “Mind Massage” class…by phone. The facilitator leads the discussion from St. Paul’s Church in Oakland. Several seniors join the conference call.

Gerontologist Terry Englehart founded the phone program, calling it Senior Center Without Walls. While running a senior information and referral program six years ago, Terry found a way to unite isolated seniors.

She says three things happened:

“I went to a conference and learned about a program in New York City that’s similar, in that they offer classes to seniors on the telephone,” she remembers. “(And) somebody donated $2,500 anonymously to my program. And the third thing was I went into a large store and saw a sign that said ‘cheap conference calls.'”

Today, Senior Center Without Walls offers more than 70 classes a week. Volunteers facilitate sessions from bereavement to ballet to bingo.

“We send out materials. Everyone gets the bingo cards. We have a volunteer on the phone calling the bingo numbers,” Terry explains.

The non profit’s sponsor, Episcopal Senior Communities, pays for the conference calls so more than 250 seniors can phone in toll-free. They even “travel” over the phone. Terry’s son once called the conference line from New Orleans while the seniors perused pictures he’d sent.

“We take trips all over the place. We had a cruise once!” Terry says.

Terry takes pictures that the seniors will use in Johnie Mae Poindexter’s class on homemade quilts. Johnie Mae herself often calls in to other classes as a participant.

“We get to a certain age, we want to think about ourselves, when we’re going to die, and get scared, it gives you something else to think about,” Johnie Mae says.

One popular class is called “gratitude.”  One thing many seniors are grateful for — is Terry.

“She’s a real people person,” Rosalee says. “She has the ability to make us feel worthy, that our point of view, our comments, are important.”

Terry adds, “It’s a lot of fun. I love doing it.”

So for creating a phone-based community for isolated seniors, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Terry Engelhart.

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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