Rittenhouse Village of Portage’s Zoom support groups provide community and solidarity

Rittenhouse Village of Portage’s Zoom support groups provide community and solidarity

A vital aspect of anyone’s emotional and mental wellbeing is the opportunity to discuss the difficult problems and life events they go through with someone who understands. Three years ago, Rittenhouse Village of Portage began to help its residents and people outside in the community with the issues they faced by providing a monthly support group.

Partnering with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services, who provided Danielle Balek, Senior Lifestyle Counselor, and Angel Ripley, Memory Care Director, the essential training to run a support group, Rittenhouse Village of Portage saw the incredible impact the support group has on a person. By encouraging open and cathartic, anonymous discussions between people with similar experiences, residents and community members are welcomed into spaces where they don’t feel alone in their problems.

“It’s a safe place for people who are going through similar situations,” Ripley said. “We’ve strived to provide that safe place and have succeeded in providing that for our residents and people in the community.”

But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the senior living center stopped in-person support group meetings for residents’ and staff’s safety. Ripley, who has been with Rittenhouse for a year and a half and leads many sessions, was concerned about the residents’ and community’s wellbeing now that they were unable to host meetings.

“We got to brainstorming what we could do to continue providing this support group,” Balek said. “Could we do it outside? Or would virtually be better? We ultimately decided to do it virtually.”

The support group over Zoom, including a normal in-person session, is open to Rittenhouse Village residents and families outside of the senior community. Each session lasts an hour from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and meets every third Thursday of the month. Other than the format, not much has changed in how a session is administered. It still provides the same cathartic and welcoming atmosphere that attendees have come to expect as they discuss their experiences.

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“We are an outlet for them,” Ripley said. “They have each other to talk amongst and they have us if they have questions, concerns, or even ideas. But the main common denominator between attendees is that these sessions are a chance to talk through and get things out. We let them do most of the talking so that they have that outlet and they’re talking to people with similar experiences.”

“In the end, they’re not alone.”

While the pandemic has made these processes more difficult and added an extra layer of grief and trauma for people to explore and dissect, Balek and Ripley have continued to work hard to provide this much-needed care in the midst of unorthodox times.

“Whether we have one person or fifteen people in a session, we’re still helping people,” Balek said. “You get into this business because you want to help people, which is something Ripley and I hold very dearly.”

“I’ve seen people experience joy. I’ve seen people get very emotional. I’ve seen people laugh together,” Riley said. “They build a bond amongst each other and build trust with us. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in what you’ve gone through.”

Balek and Ripley hope to get back to in-person support groups soon but encourage residents and the community to take advantage of the Zoom sessions as the community and the world continues to move through the COVID-19 pandemic. The support group will next meet over Zoom the third Thursday in February.

For more information about Rittenhouse Village of Portage, visit their website at https://www.rittenhousevillages.com/rittenhouse-village-at-portage/.