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This story originally appeared on WJLA – ABC TV
April 21, 2020
How a Maryland teen’s high school project serves as a lifeline for seniors during COVID-19
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — A Montgomery County teenager is on a mission to keep senior citizens from feeling isolated and alone. It’s a project that actually pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic, but has become more important now than ever before.
“Now they’re really on lockdown and no one can come in or out. So if there’s a way for them to contact their families and connect that’s so much better, because they’re just stuck in isolation by themselves,” said Hailey Wilson.
Wilson, who is a sophomore at Holton-Arms School, says the project began in the fall of 2019.
“I signed up to do social innovators, which is basically an entrepreneurship program my school has with the University of Pennsylvania,” she said. “You go through the entrepreneurship process and can create your own venture, and you have to pick a target market. I decided mine was going to be seniors.
She says her late grandmother was her inspiration.
“My grandmother’s name was Ethel. And she lived with us, and I helped in her care every single day until the last day. And I really just learned a lot about their struggles, because I saw it face-to-face. And I guess that contributed to my love for seniors,” she said.
That’s ultimately how the ‘The Ethel Project’ got its name.
“It’s named after her, yes,” said Wilson. “I think she would tell me to keep helping others.”
So a few months ago, Wilson began visiting Spring Hills Mount Vernon Assisted Living and Memory in Northern Virginia. She donated several iPads to the facility and taught the elderly residents there how to use Skype to stay connected to their families.
“They loved it! She made a lot of friends here when she was able to come in the building,” said Tom Clarke, the Executive Director at Spring Hills Mount Vernon.
When COVID-19 led nursing homes all over the country to restrict visitations in an effort to protect the vulnerable elderly population, Wilson knew the technology she’d been teaching at Spring Hills Mount Vernon would become even more crucial.
“It’s definitely different seeing someone face-to-face than on Skype, but it’s still something,” she said. “I think it’s important to give back to them.”
Wilson is now working remotely to help the residents and staff at Spring Hills Mount Vernon. She answers tech questions via email and has created a step-by-step guide to Skype so that the staff at Spring Hills can help even more seniors log in.
She’s also hoping to expand the program to other nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area.
“I think the end goal is just to get it into more communities. I think even after the coronavirus it will still be useful,” said Wilson. “It’s the right thing to do.”