Residents of care centres across the province have been connecting with loved ones like never before thanks to a technologically savvy charity.
"COVID-19 has put a lens on how truly in the dark this demographic is," said Jay-Dee Netter, president and cofounder of Project Joy, which has been providing repurposed and new electronic communication devices to at least 34 seniors centres and hospices in Alberta since last April.
Netter said the need is urgent to help people connect with isolated loved ones.
"When you look at technology, everyone is always able to connect at the press of a button. But people in care centres can't do that," said Netter, pointing out pandemic-related shutdowns made matters worse for those in isolation.
"They don't have a tablet or an iPhone. We're bringing them online so they can visit with family, so they can have accessibility ... There is no reason in a first world country that you can't give your grandma and grandfather the ability to communicate with family. It brings everyone closer together."
Spruce Grove mom Emily Jenks provided the catalyst for Project Joy last spring when, after discovering a need at a nearby seniors' home, she put out a call on social media asking for old smart phones and tablets.
She had an impressive response to her appeal, including from Netter, who is co-owner of an Edmonton-based technology solutions company.
"We did not realize how many people need this. It’s definitely growing," said Netter, adding he and Jenks soon formed a non-profit society.
Since last April, more than 1,000 residents at centres and hospices across Alberta have been connected with loved ones.
“We ask the therapist of the facility, ‘How many do you need?’ and then we provide one device for every five to eight people. They are not only used for video calls but for photos and video messages," Netter said.
"We have quite a few testimonials. We have spoken with therapists who are in tears. They are just taken aback at how much this has helped. ‘You've saved this person's life. They’ve started eating again.’ It chokes me up."
While they do refurbish used devices, they also purchase new ones.
"For $250 we can buy a brand new tablet," he said.
Android smartphones or tablets less than four years old, Apple iPad Gen 3 or newer and iPhone 5 or newer are accepted. The devices must be reset to factory settings and unlinked from Apple ID, iCloud, and any management accounts with the protective cases removed.
While they accept donated devices, they are also encouraging cash donations.
“We need devices as new as possible. That's why we are fundraising, so we can buy new."
He said the group did a tech drive through London Drugs, and there are numerous drop-off locations at centres across the province.
Netter said he and the other nine volunteers are extremely busy, but are truly energized by the impact they are having.
“It’s a labour of love. We get so much joy out of changing people’s lives.”
Although it was formed during COVID-19, the plan is for Project Joy to continue long after the pandemic ends.
“It is hard to visit for three to four months of the year in Alberta due to our weather. There will always be a need," said Netter, adding Project Joy would like to someday include individual seniors living in their own homes.
“Our long-term goal is to be in care homes across Western Canada within two years.”
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.