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BIG Problems, BIG Solutions

Featured Photo from BIG Problems, BIG Solutions

With its founder back in action, the Senior Intervention Group is doing more than ever just when it’s needed the most

Officer Zach Hudson of the Lake Mary Police Department founded the Senior Intervention Group (SIG) in 2009 to help older residents, many of whom were living alone on low-income budgets. Zach was unsettled by the way some local seniors were living and how often they were victimized by crime, so he decided to take action.

With the Police Department’s blessing, Zach formed a volunteer board and found common-sense ways to make seniors’ lives safer, less lonely, and more healthy.

To provide simple solutions with big impact, SIG addressed a few important questions, such as:

• What if, after a break-in, a window lock, costing just a few dollars and installed by a volunteer, could prevent a senior in our community from being victimized again?

• What if providing a senior with food for their pet would stretch their budget enough to ensure they could afford, and would take, all their medication that month?

• What if having volunteers install a wheelchair ramp would increase the quality of life for an older resident – and more importantly, help them get out in case of a fire?

Zach estimates that SIG, which focuses on seniors in Northern Seminole County, has since helped more than 8,000 seniors, delivering food, helping them with VA benefits, cleaning up their yards, and more.

Though Zach wasn’t a member of the Lake Mary Police Department from 2014 to 2019, during which time he launched his own security consulting company, he stayed in touch. Zach remained connected to SIG as a volunteer and close to the seniors it helps. His return to the Police Department, though, has breathed new life into an already vibrant organization, just when the community needs it the most.

“With LMPD always so focused on community engagement, my coming back to the Police Department has been such a natural fit for me,” Zach says. “Our city and Police Department leadership does a fantastic job at plugging people into positions they can be passionate about.”

COVID Challenges
More than a decade ago, Zach could not have imagined how valuable his organization would become when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“Because seniors are scared of COVID, they don’t want to take risks, so they have become increasingly isolated,” says Zach. “A lot of seniors suffer from depression, which is a major issue.”

In addition to its focus on food and physical security, SIG quickly pivoted to address the psychological needs of local seniors.
Social workers ramped up their partnership with SIG to provide a mental-health resource for neighbors in need by coordinating safe, socially-distanced home visits. Volunteers also call seniors to conduct virtual wellness checks. Others simply talk to those who call the SIG office and want to chat.

“One volunteer, Michael Barrett, just turned 90,” says Zach. “He’ll answer phones and talk to people. He enjoys that experience.”

Zach also says it’s important to note that the seniors SIG serves aren’t turning to technology as a tool to combat loneliness, like so many younger adults can do. They are not on Facebook to connect with others. They can often spend days in quarantine without talking to anyone.

“People we serve don’t have internet,” Zach explains. “They’ve never sent an email. They are functioning like it’s 1986.”
The digital isolation also makes common services more difficult to access during COVID restrictions.

“Medical organizations are doing remote patient monitoring, but that doesn’t work if a patient doesn’t have internet,” says Zach, so he and his SIG volunteers are trying the best they can to accommodate as many tech-challenged seniors as possible.

The overwhelming demand keeps the group motivated to serve, Zach says, praising committed volunteers like the “absolutely amazing” Cyndy Kingston who, along with about 10 other volunteers, runs the SIG office.

“I jokingly tell Cyndy I’ll have to get her a cot,” says Zach, reporting that it’s not uncommon for Cyndy to put in 50 hours a week, ensuring all administrative duties are handled.

But more volunteers are always sought to meet the growing need.

As an example, Zach says the number of seniors requesting Thanksgiving dinner deliveries in 2019 was 50. In 2020, it jumped to 200, with COVID afoot to make those deliveries even more complicated. Local restaurant owner John Gau donated and prepared all the turkey dinners, “and they don’t even serve turkey at his restaurant,” says Zach, “but he didn’t even think twice about it.”

John’s dedication is another example of community giving that keeps SIG steadily serving some of our most valued and vulnerable residents.

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