On the Road and Headed Your Way
Human beings have always been stronger together. That’s why Lifesprk cares so deeply about building supportive social networks that connect us to each other and to our communities. The challenging events of the past six months have weakened some of those connections. The global COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we live, how we access care, and how we stay connected. Fears about visiting hospitals or clinics have made it more difficult for people to maintain their health and wellness. This is especially true for the most vulnerable members of our communities. And then, there was the tragic murder of George Floyd and the chaos that followed, which has spurred important questions and dialogues about race, equality, and power at the national and local level.
Lifesprk has been providing whole-person senior services to Twin Cities families for more than 15 years. As a company dedicated to helping people live longer, healthier, more independent lives, we felt passionate about helping to make the world a safer and better place for everyone.
We challenged ourselves to think outside the four walls of home, campus, and facility to connect with people where they live, work and play. The result is the Open House, an innovative approach to community outreach. Conceived by Dr. Bill Thomas, an internationally renowned geriatrician and Lifesprk Independence Officer, the Open House is designed to serve the needs of the community.
Inspired by the Tradition of Reciprocity
Launched with the help of our partners, the Open House is a welcoming place where people can come together (at a safe distance) to learn, share, and connect. “A sustained imbalance between giving and receiving can seriously, and sometimes permanently, damage our health and well-being,”said Dr. Thomas. “This tiny house-on-wheels is traveling to neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis, bringing the spirit of reciprocity wherever it goes.” The idea of reciprocity is based on the work of Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, a physician who lived and worked in Naples, Italy, in the early 1900s. Dr. Moscati’s Solidarity Basket encouraged the simple act of giving and receiving with the words: Chi può metta, chi non può prenda (“those who can, put something in, those who can’t, help yourself”).
Like the Solidarity Basket, the Open House provides opportunities for people to help one another, both by giving and receiving. As a mobile community pantry, the Open House is stocked with essential household supplies—paper products, hand soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, diapers, disinfectant wipes, personal protective equipment (PPE)—as well as books, games, and non-perishable food, available to anyone in need. The Open House is also a drop-off site which gives neighbors a chance to help neighbors by sharing what they can.
A modern take on the Solidarity Basket are the Little Free Libraries that began popping up in cities around the country in 2009. Suddenly, as this pandemic created vast shortages of household essentials and food, many Little Free Libraries transformed almost overnight into mini-community pantries where neighbors left rolls of toilet paper, canned goods, hand sanitizer, and puzzles free for the taking.
Street-level Health and Wellness
The Open House is also a welcoming place for conversation, connection, and an exchange of information—an antidote to feelings of social isolation and loneliness that have increased since the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, while loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
When visitors come to the Open House, they can chat with Lifesprk staff and volunteers, get updates on COVID-19, learn how to avoid caregiver burnout, and find local resources and services, such as in-home care, grocery delivery, transportation, exercise programs, and more. “It is within the shelter of each other that we will discover a buried treasure of strength, purpose, and belonging,” added Dr. Thomas.
In addition to in-person conversations, visitors can connect virtually with a medical expert via a little robot (an OHMNIbot – think Big Bang Theory!) called Sparky. Using telepresence technology, people can talk with a physician, including Dr. Bill Thomas himself, on topics such as dealing with feelings of social isolation, understanding the difference between normal aging and dementia, and identifying when a senior might need skilled nursing care.
In the spirit of reciprocity, we invite you to get involved with the Open House at whatever level works for you and your family.
- Volunteer. Make a difference in your neighborhood by volunteering at a future Open House. We offer training, PPE, and an opportunity to help those in need.
- Spread the word. Invite your friends, family members, and neighbors to join you at an Open House. Once you’re there, take a selfie and post it on social. #GivingOnWheels #OpenHouse4All
- Drop off household goods and non-perishable food the next time you visit. If you’d like to arrange a pick-up, contact us at 952-345-0919 or ShineOn@lifesprk.com.
- Request a visit. Reach out to us if you’re interested in bringing the Open House to your neighborhood.
- Provide feedback. Let us know how we can continue improving our community support, not just during challenging times but also for the long term. And if you have a story to share, we’d love to hear that, too!
Check the Open House calendar to find out when we’ll be in your neighborhood—and make sure to drop in to say hello. We look forward to meeting you!