GEM creates new programs to provide services and support virtually

Published 3:03 pm Saturday, July 11, 2020

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GEM Day Services has introduced some new programs in response to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

GEM (Gentle Expert Memorycare) has served the area by providing a supportive, interactive community for adults with memory loss, physical and mental disabilities and those in need of socialization. Prior to COVID-19, GEM programs were hosted in person with hands-on activities for participants.

GEM executive director Gail Sonnesso announced that a new slew of programs under the name “GEMz” has begun as a response to COVID-19.

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Due to pandemic restrictions, Sonnesso said services will be now be available virtually via the Zoom platform.

“GEMz is our response to the challenges of serving our families during the time of COVID-19. We plan a monthly schedule consisting of four weekly interactive events offered on Fridays,” Sonnesso shared.

The program ran for the first time on July 3. Prior to the meeting, Sonnesso said that GEM president Angelo Sonnesso hosted a pre-program meeting to walk participants through how to use Zoom.

On Friday, the program started at 2 p.m. and ran for about 75 minutes. “You’d be amazed at how excited everyone was to see each other and to talk,” Sonnesso shared.

Ever since the very beginning of the pandemic, Sonnesso said her board members had been “sort of floundering” on what to do, given their unique population. She questioned how participants would be able to engage with a computer screen.

Eventually, the GEM team found a solution. “If they have something in their hands, like a bingo card or exercise equipment or a craft kit, that will help us connect with them,” she said.

One of the main problems GEM found a solution to was the socialization factor, which was a major component of their regular services pre-COVID-19.

Each week, GEMz is themed. For a recent program, the twelve participants received songbooks and had a sing-a-long with Angelo Sonnesso after catching up with one another. “We did music first because everyone loves music,” Gail Sonnesso said.

GEMz is intended to be a partnership with the between the person with memory loss and their caregiver, while they work together to utilize the virtual means of communication and interact with one another as well at the group.

Sonnesso said that materials for each week are emailed to participants or family members can make other arrangements to receive materials by contacting GEM. The GEM members that have helped to make this new way of interaction possible include Ana Figiel, program assistant; Susan Darling, board member; Cathy Pfendler, board member; along with the Sonnessos.

The remaining July events include:

July 17: Exercise class with Ana and friends (interactive material: exercise list and descriptions)

July 24: Art classes with Susan and Cathy (interactive material: instructions/art materials)

July 31: Sing-a-long with Angelo (interactive material: songbooks)

For more information or to register, call Gail Sonnesso at 252-480-4454 or email



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