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Older Adult Isolation Project underway to connect seniors with services

Volunteer navigator
Provided by The United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties
Mary Lou Karliak, a volunteer with The United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, makes calls as a Social Isolation Navigator.

Social isolation and loneliness can take many forms for older adults. Mike Castellano, older adult isolation manager for the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, and his team are working to identify what puts someone at risk.

“There’s been a pretty broad spectrum of isolation that we’re seeing,” he said. “I think we’re starting to really understand the holes in services, whether it be transportation or just overall community engagement.”

Since July of this year, the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties has been testing a new program aimed at identifying and helping older adults at risk of social isolation.

The Older Adult Isolation Project, started in collaboration with the Moses Taylor Foundation, is in a pilot stage. Two organizations, The Wright Center and the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging, are able to refer older adults to participate in the program.

Once a person is referred, volunteer “navigators” with the United Way take an initial assessment to identify their needs. Then, the navigators work to connect their new clients with whatever resources can benefit them - whether it’s help with health insurance or connecting them with a community center in their area.

Castellano said there are about 30 people going through the program at the moment, and he and the volunteers have started to figure out what a success story can look like. He often thinks of one participant who was looking for community connections but didn’t know there was a Healthy Aging Campus senior center right near her home.

“People don’t know they exist and we’re able to introduce them,” Castellano said. “In many cases we’re able to not only introduce them, but get them there as well.”

Participants then take another survey after 60 days, and the United Way shares the data with The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development to research the results and eventually expand the project.

Castellano said while they are only taking referrals from the select two organizations at this time, the United Way can always use more volunteer isolation navigators as the project continues. To volunteer, contact the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.