Cornerstone program brightens birthdays of lonely seniors


In the Memory Care Center at Cornerstone Adult Services, workers from Cornerstone and the Westbay Community Action Program were eager and excited Monday about a new community outreach program for homebound seniors.

“Birthday Bags” is a program spearheaded by Linda Sennott and Dottie Santagata from Cornerstone aimed at lessening the health strains for homebound seniors who have little to no social contact with the outside world.

Sennott is the program director at Cornerstone, and when she learned there are more than 600 homebound and isolated seniors she felt a call to action.

“The ‘Birthday Bags’ were established so when the case workers went to seniors,” said Sennott, “they could give them a gift in the month of their birthday, when they otherwise might not get one.”

More than 50 of the bags have been assembled by patients in the Memory Care Center for distribution by Westbay Community Action.

“Seniors get three to four gifts per bag,” says Sennott, “and everything in the bags are made by our senior participants [at Cornerstone].”

Santagata is the administrator at Cornerstone and was alarmed when she read about research from the University of California at San Francisco about the effects of loneliness and isolation in elderly populations. Effects from isolation include physical, mental and cognitive decline, which includes loss of mobility, depression and other increased health and mental risks.

“We recognize that many seniors live alone and have very little contact with the outside world,” said Santagata. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are times people come forward and reach out, but there’s a long time between Christmas and Thanksgiving the following year. What about the rest of the year?”

Santagata, Sennott and the rest of Cornerstone collaborated on ideas to make contact with homebound seniors on days like their birthdays, Easter and other holidays and occasions they might not get contact with others.

Cornerstone was limited in what they could do regarding seniors and their personal information. They teamed up with Westbay to make a plan for the “Birthday Bags” and future endeavors with the senior population.

“Cornerstone doesn’t have access to senior information…but Westbay does,” said Santagata. “They have birthdays and addresses so we work with them to distribute the ‘Birthday Bags.’”

Santagata is adamant that elderly loneliness is serious. “I really do see this as both a community outreach and public health issue,” said Santagata. “We know they can have more physical and cognitive issues, depression and loss of mobility, so these are an epidemic.”

However, Santagata has a positive outlook on this project as the “stepping stone” from which future outreach programs can branch out.

“This is our first step to address loneliness and depression in the elderly,” says Santagata. “We have other ideas…to bridge our program to the elderly. We hope this might introduce them to adult day services…and they might be more willing to come in for a visit.”


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