It was a blind date of sorts, but with a lot more excited squealing.
On Wednesday, a group of senior women from Brooklyn who have been chatting on the phone since October — but have never seen each other’s faces — met in person for the very first time.
The women may be in their 60s, 70s and 80s, but the greetings outside Downtown Brooklyn’s Junior’s, ahead of a lunch together, were more like that of sisters in a schoolyard.
As each new group member arrived, the others excitedly tried to guess who it could be, before hearing their voice and identifying them immediately.
“I was so excited, I was like a baby last night, I couldn’t sleep,” group member Annie Everett said.
“Because of the pandemic, being with the group, I don’t feel so isolated. And I met some wonderful people, although I don’t know them by face. But you learn a lot from them just from talking on the phone.”
“This is so wonderful,” Willie Mae Thomas, 75, added. “Now we can visit each other more regularly.”
The seniors — all Black grandmothers and great-grandmothers— were connected in October through the Sharing Network.
The Sharing Network is a project of One Community, designed to alleviate social isolation in older people who live in public housing in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
While many of the women may live in the same place, they wouldn’t have recognized each other before now.
“Now we won’t pass each other by and not say anything!” group member Margaret Hough said.
Wednesday’s group was just one that the Sharing Network has put together, and they meet every Monday at 11:00am. The conversations are led by group member Pam Mondezie, who is also a senior, retired from the Department of Social Services, a devoted union activist and storyteller.
“We didn’t do no Zoom, just voices,” Mondezie explained. She said each of the women got involved through the senior services they receive, like Meals on Wheels. Mondezie was shoulder-tapped to host. The lunch at Junior’s was her idea.
“My class is awesome,” she said, adding that there are some who like to talk, and others who need a little help coming out of their shells.
“Sometimes I have a topic and sometimes I freestyle. We take them back to when they were young, take them forward with the grandchildren.
“Their grandchildren are their lifelines and they can talk about them to doomsday, we try to do topics that stimulate them in a happy way.”
Information is power, and some of the things the women talk about could be life-changing, or even life-saving. The women have discussed the COVID-19 vaccination, and how to get it, as well as issues of racism, sexism, music, food, politics and more.
Doing life together has helped the women prepare for its hiccups, too.
After Mondezie’s sister had a health scare, she made sure all of the women checked their medical documentation to make sure their emergency contact is still relevant, and still alive.
For some of the seniors who live alone, the calls have been a game-changer.
Cynthia Parks, a COVID-19 survivor, said the calls had been a “lifeline” for her, “to have a sisterhood.”
Katherine Roberts was “terrified” when the pandemic began, she said.
“I felt really lonely… You don’t know what to do, it’s scary.”
But after joining the Sharing Network group, she hasn’t turned back. “You always have people to call on for prayer or whatever you need.”
Hough said it was encouraging to get that regular call ever Monday, especially for some of the seniors who lived alone.
“Pam had great topics. I don’t usually venture out with people and stuff like that, but Pam has a very inviting voice and personality,” she said.
As the women got ready to step into Junior’s and really get things started, they realized they hadn’t asked each other’s ages.
“It’s a senior thing,” Mondezie said.
Outside the restaurant, she turned to the ladies. “We’re all seniors, and, ‘Good black don’t what?'” she asked them.
“Don’t crack!” they replied in unison, before falling back into giggles.
The Sharing Network offers weekly, moderator-led discussion groups accessible by phone on a variety of topics. The groups are no larger than eight people, and meet for one hour a week for five weeks.
If you know a senior who could try the Sharing Network, click here for more information.
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