BRIDGEWATER – It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated many of us.
If you think you had a bad time just seeing the people you live with, imagine how awful it was for seniors, many of whom live alone.
“Many times as we get older, our friends die or our children and grandchildren move away. But they are still here and they are alone,” said Leslee Barbosa of Bridgewater.
“In order to have a good quality of life for seniors, quality of life involves having good friendships,” she said.
That year, Barbosa, 55, was determined to do something to help.
In honor of her mother, she started a volunteer program called Josie’s Village, which works with the Bridgewater Senior Center to match volunteers with seniors to spend time with.
Volunteers enroll through the senior citizen center and are matched with a local senior with whom they spend time through phone calls, walks, and other activities based on similarities in their calling.
“It’s one thing to talk to your family, but it’s another thing to talk to a friend. So that was the premise in developing Josie’s Village: to build friendships between seniors and volunteers and simply bring them to the community make them feel for who they are. ” Part of the community, “said Barbosa.
The program has 13 people who are transforming the lives of local seniors, but Barbosa’s inspiration for the program goes back over a decade.
Eleven years ago, Barbosa’s mother, Josephine “Josie” Chrapan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia and other health problems.
At the time, Chrapan was in a rehab facility due to a fall, and there health workers insisted that she go to a 24-hour care facility for people with their needs.
But Barbosa didn’t want to put her mother in a nursing home.
“I kept asking, ‘Well why does she have to be in a nursing home?’ And they just kept saying, ‘Well, she has dementia’ or ‘She has Alzheimer’s disease, she needs 24-hour care,’ “Barbosa said.” I said, ‘I understand, but can you give me a medical reason why does she have to go to a care facility? ‘ And they couldn’t. ”
So Barbosa, who was working as a personal cook at the time, decided to take her mother home and take care of her herself. She discussed it with her husband and shortly afterwards Chrapan moved in with them.
“She was my mother. I felt like no one could care for her or love her more than me,” said Barbosa.
At first Barbosa kept working, but soon she found that she could not properly look after her mother and work. So she stopped working and was a full-time home carer for her mother for the next 11 years.
Barbosa believes it really made a difference. When Chrapan was first diagnosed, she was told that she had three years to live. Instead, she lived more than three times that time.
And while Chrapan lost some parts of herself, as is always the case with dementia, Barbosa said with the help of personal care, her mother never lost her quick-witted sense of humor and love for hanging out with people.
“Until just a few days before she died, she was just plain funny and loving and sweet,” Barbosa said.
Chrapan died on February 11, 2020, and it wasn’t long before Barbosa started thinking about other seniors in Bridgewater and how the pandemic affected them.
“I woke up one morning thinking about the seniors in our community who are lonely, isolated, scared and may not have a friend to turn to,” she said.
Friendship was always important to her mother, said Barbosa.
“’Friends are the flowers in the garden of life’ – that’s what my mother always told me,” she says.
So Barbosa reached out to the Bridgewater Senior Center, with whom she has worked for many years. She asked if they had a long-term friendship-building program between seniors and community members and they said no.
On the anniversary of Chrapan’s death, Barbosa officially founded Josie’s Village to honor her mother’s memory and love for good friends.
The center is currently looking for volunteers who will work with a senior for at least three months.
All seniors who think they’d like a new friend are welcome.
If you’re interested in joining Josie’s Village, email Emily Williams at Bridgewater Senior Center at [email protected].
The company’s employee, Susannah Sudborough, can be reached by email at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter at @k_sudborough. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.