Wilton college student’s internship is a lifeline to older adults

What started out as an internship turned into volunteerism as college student James Mannix makes weekly calls to 15 older adults who are clients of Family & Children’s Agency.

What started out as an internship turned into volunteerism as college student James Mannix makes weekly calls to 15 older adults who are clients of Family & Children’s Agency.

Contributed photo / Family & Children's Agency

WILTON — When James Mannix came home from Providence College, he was supposed to have a banking internship, but that got cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to fill the void, he turned his attention to volunteering, and decided to call Family & Children’s Agency, an organization he was familiar with through his grandmother, a longtime volunteer with Minks to Sinks, whose twice-yearly tag sales benefit the agency.

“They had a bunch of things I could do,” Mannix said last week. Among them was making weekly calls to 15 older adults who are clients of the agency’s Home Care services.

From his home in Wilton, Mannix would call the women and men, checking on their safety and mental and physical health, and making sure they had enough food.

“Sometimes that would be it or we’d have a nice talk,” he said.

Most of the time, he said, people liked talking about what was going on in their lives, telling him about events with their family members.

“They like to know a little bit more about me, too” he said. “I think they like to hear from a younger generation.”

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Sometimes the calls became more involved. In one instance, a woman told him about her husband’s experiences in World War II and her children’s service in the military.”

“In another call, I helped a woman find a freezer chest that seemed to be sold out everywhere,” he said. “We emailed back and forth and wound up working together,” until the elusive freezer was located.

According to the agency, research has shown that social isolation and loneliness in older adults is linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But engaging in meaningful activities helps people live longer and have a sense of purpose.

The pandemic lockdown has only exacerbated loneliness, particularly among older people who are most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

“The calls James is making mean so much to seniors during this particularly difficult time,” said Ligia Masilamani, director of the agency’s Home Care program. “Providing extra avenues of support and connection are essential to the mental and physical well-being of our clients.”

Home Care services at Family & Children’s Agency include a medical alert and emergency response system, home health aides, homemaking services, assisted transportation, caregiver support, and social work services. For information, call Masilamani at 203-523-5141 or email LMasilamani@fcagency.org.

Mannix, who is a 2017 Wilton High School graduate, has found the work so fulfilling that after his five-week internship was over he continues making the phone calls. It’s also been helpful to him, he believes, with his future career plans.

A business major entering his senior year at Providence, Mannix works for Jefferies, a financial services company, and aspires to work on the sales side of investment banking. He likens calling the seniors to client contact that is helping him hone his communication skills.

Mannix also helped the agency out with what he called “housekeeping stuff,” such as reaching out to local businesses and organizations for donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) and similar items.

This was important work, said Lindsay Perry, director of communications and marketing, “because we do have employees going into homes, and calling some of these businesses willing to donate was really helpful as well.”

Mannix is not sure how long he will continue making his calls. “It could go on for a while,” he said. “My school schedule is flexible. I’ll do it as long as necessary.”