Mary Lou Grizzle, right, delivers food to a local senior as part of Fort Bend County's "You Are Not Alone" program. (Photo from Facebook)

   Few populations in Fort Bend County have been more devastated by the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic than those who belong to the 65-and-up demographic, particularly those who are living alone. 

“Scams can happen, falls can happen, and people live in a busy time, especially during COVID-19 when people weren’t getting out and visiting with folks,” Michael Kahlenberg said. “We wanted a program where real people were making real phone calls and talking with them and seeing what’s going on in their world.”

Kahlenberg is the director of You Are Not Alone (YANA), a local nonprofit organization geared toward providing aid and comfort to seniors who are disabled and/or living alone. He’s looking for more volunteers to help some of the county’s most vulnerable residents. 

Any Fort Bend County resident who has graduated from the police academy in their municipality is eligible to volunteer, he said. He said shift lengths average between 2-4 hours, and volunteers are required to serve only two shifts per month. 

Those who would like to receive visits from YANA volunteers can apply at the following web address: https://www.fortbendcountytx.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/53962/637515143293800000 or call 281-341-9262 for more information.

YANA was founded three years ago and partnered with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office (FBCSO), using trained volunteers from its Citizens Police Academy to assist senior members by phone and to make in-person visits at the request of a member or in the event the member does not answer three attempted phone calls. 

The county has more than 850,000 residents, and Kahlenberg said about 10 to 12 percent of them are over age 65. He estimated 27 percent of those seniors are living alone.

Well aware that the pandemic still persists despite decreases in deaths and cases, he said it was important that YANA had volunteers who were mindful of mostly homebound seniors who would otherwise have little to no contact with the outside world. 

“We call them either every single day or as often as they want,” Kahlenberg said. “Some want three days a week, some want seven days a week. We’re there to make those calls and check on them.” 

Todd Miller, a YANA volunteer, said he and his colleagues will assist with changing smoke alarm batteries or light bulbs or other basic services for members with disabilities. 

YANA has the “three-call policy” as a safety precaution, and Kahlenberg said it has been a lifesaving measure in the past. In one instance, he said FBSCO deputies were dispatched to a scene and found a woman who had fallen and broken her hip and was unable to contact anyone for help. 

“She could have been there for hours, days or weeks,” Kahlenberg said. “Our volunteers saved her life.” 

Conversations and in-person visits can often be very short check-ins, but some volunteers will eventually develop a rapport with the seniors they visit, he said.

“You start building a friendship, in a sense,” Kahlenberg said.

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