Coronavirus Bay Area: Seniors find way to connect despite COVID-19 isolation with music

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There's concern that seniors home alone could be at risk for stress and anxiety without social interaction. A tool that people utilize for working from home is proving to be a perfect way to keep seniors engaged.

Nearly 400 seniors in Silicon Valley look forward to visits from volunteers from the nonprofit group Mon Ami. However, these companions have switched to delivering groceries and other necessities now that in-home visits are no longer possible.

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That's still important contact for Los Altos resident Gene, with social distancing leaving him isolated.

"To see a nice young person come around with a smile on her face and give me the groceries and exchange a few words six feet apart... OK," he said.

Joy Zhang is a co-founder of Mon Ami, which has been operating for a year and a half, mostly with Stanford students.

"While social distancing is still the best form of protection we have against COVID-19, it is a danger in itself, and we have to do everything we can to stay connected in this current crisis," she said.

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The solution? Re-inventing its services to utilize online conferencing platforms like Zoom. This was the launch of virtual concerts. Mon Ami volunteer companion Emma Master rounded up her parents Angie and Dan and her younger brother trip to do a live performance of Beatles songs.

They're setting up in their living room in Staten Island, New York, sheltering at home, exactly as Bay Area residents are. But microphones and a camera bridge the 3,000 miles to an eager senior audience.

Stanford grad Emma Master believes what they're doing is important.

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"We have a lot of family friends, too, who have been feeling really lonely," she said. "It's just them in their houses alone. So I think having the chance to kind of be in a family dynamic for a little bit and listen to familiar songs."

Twice a week concerts are planned to feature other musicians. It won't stop with that.

"We're introducing virtual reading groups, virtual art groups," said Mon Ami's Joy Zhang, "and if people have interesting ideas, we would love to hear them."

Is this working? One of the seniors watching Wednesday's virtual concert was singing along, a welcome response considering she has dementia. It appears that Mon Ami has found a good way to reach out to seniors.

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