NJ Girl Scouts connecting the elderly with long-distance family
FLEMINGTON — Plenty of older New Jersey residents have no idea that video-chat platforms like Skype or FaceTime even exist.
So a few Girl Scouts are essentially making miracles happen on a regular basis for the elderly residents of Hunterdon Care Center.
Sammi Apanovitch, Julia Artale and Mary McKenna — all 14 years old — conducted some fundraising, asked for donations of devices, and started connecting senior citizens with their distant loved ones who rarely get the opportunity to visit.
"Some people don't get to see their family a lot," McKenna said. "And just seeing them makes them happy."
Some chats are quick, the girls said. Others may last more than an hour. And when family on the other end doesn't answer the call, or there are connectivity issues, the girls themselves have a chance to connect with the residents.
"One resident — she found out over a FaceTime call that she was going to be a great-grandmother, and she was really emotional over it," Artale said.
The good deed was their idea for a Silver Award project, which is meant to improve the local community, and must prove to be sustainable. The girls racked up the required 50 hours of community service at the Center and earned the award in September, but didn't stop there.
With the help of the Center, the girls currently coordinate video-chat appointments with 17 residents. Their sessions reach family members as far as California and France.
"We're hoping that it's going to be more and more over time," Apanovitch said.
If not for the girls' efforts, 87-year-old Bertha Balek would see her son John in upstate New York just twice a year.
Since the end of June, she and John connect "face-to-face" weekly.
"It means an awful lot," Balek said. "I get to see him, I get to talk to him, and I see how healthy he is."
"It's the next best thing to being there," her son told New Jersey 101.5 during a video call. "Family should be together, and this is one way of making the world a little bit smaller."
The girls were awarded Hunterdon Care Center's Volunteer of the Year award for 2018.
"They are wise beyond their years and i really look forward to what they're going to do for us in the future, and what they're going to contribute to us," said Robert Kovacs, the Center's administrator. "We thank them for so much for the opportunity they've given our residents."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.