‘Wild and crazy idea:’ How a TV channel keeps Shelton’s Wesley Village residents connected

SHELTON — Staying connected is just a screen away for residents at Wesley Village senior living community.

Nearly a year ago, when the pandemic hit the region putting life in senior living communities on hold, Wesley Village residents asked how the social life they enjoyed with friends and neighbors would change.

That’s when the residents stepped up and spearheaded creation of their own television channel —WVTV, said Marissa Salvesen, manager of mission development at United Methodist Homes, parent company of Wesley Village.

“Someone came up with a wild and crazy idea,” Wesley Heights resident Larry Mitchell. “Why don’t we have our own television network and broadcast events?”

Salvesen called the creation of the campus-wide television station a “lifeline of virtual programming ... created to offer broadcasts within the communities and help keep residents connected and engaged in both their apartments and common gathering spaces.”

Throughout the past year, Salvese said, the virtual programming became a central stage for Wesley Village residents, staff and family members to share their time, talents and interests with each other. Today, along with modified in-person activities, she said it is still standing strong, providing a weekly outlet for connection and conversation and offering a sense of meaning and purpose to the many residents who lead regular programs.

Wesley Heights resident Joan Blais, a reiki master, created “Meditation in Motion,” a virtual QiGong class, from the comfort of her home late last spring. She offered a 20-minute session and an open phone line for any questions that followed from participants.

“Gradually I started to enjoy the virtual class more and more and was able to adapt to what people might like,” Blais said. “It was great because I was still able to give something that matters to me and that made me feel good. I enjoy sharing something I love.”

Fellow resident Marion Ramsey Miller began hosting a weekly virtual prayer service on Thursday mornings.

“I was used to leading a group with people who were sitting next to me,” Miller said, “but I have learned that we can say prayers anywhere. Virtually, I am still able to prepare prayers, devotional readings, take prayer requests and pray with people, and ... I still enjoy doing this. The best part is when people comment and say that they enjoy watching and praying with me.”

Miller worked closely with Wesley Village Chaplain Cathy Nickse, who was already offering spiritual support programs through the channel.

“I had very little experience with virtual programming, but quickly became a videographer with the help of smartphones and the great support of our IT team,” Nickse said. “We filmed weekly church services, Christian meditation sessions, hymn sings and more, which were a source of great encouragement for our residents, especially those residing at Bishop Wicke Health Center, our skilled nursing community.”

Skilled nursing residents were able to enjoy programs with staff and residents from all across campus, a huge benefit considering the many visitation restrictions placed on long-term care communities during the pandemic.

“The hope is that gathering restrictions continue to loosen so that in-person group services and events can resume in the future,” Debra Samorajczyk, administrator at Bishop Wicke Health and Rehabilitation Center, said. “Until changes are put in place, the live stream option helps to meet the spiritual needs of our residents.”

Along with Nickse and Miller’s programs was also the addition of live piano music with resident Carol Osgood and virtual rosary gatherings, led weekly by residents Annette Pizzuto, Tim Donovan and staff member Christine DeLalley.

Centenarian Jim Nies, a resident at the campus’s Crosby Commons community, leads a weekly virtual exercise class which airs on Fridays. Nies is known in the facility for his daily routine of 100 sit-ups and inspires residents and staff alike with his commitment to keep moving, staff said.

“I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you change from being a senior to a centenarian,” Nies said, “but I feel good, I eat good, I sleep good and my daily exercise program keeps me in good shape.”

While some residents volunteered to facilitate live or recorded programs, others offered to help by curating interesting online content to show along with them. Wesley Heights residents Larry Mitchell and Joan McGrath met with staff regularly to share special requests for themed programs or specific topics ranging from classic comedy to art history, health and wellness to home décor, movies, links to favorite sitcoms through the decades and more.

“We’ve continued to offer virtual programming even with the addition of in-person activities at Wesley Village,” Lori Pisani, executive director at Crosby Commons, said. “Our focus is on giving residents as many opportunities as possible to connect with each other, whether that is virtually or in-person.

“Seniors need on average six to seven hours of social interaction each day for optimal health outcomes, so we are committed to helping them meet this goal,” Pisani added. “We look forward to all that we can do going forward with these options.”