Digital video service connects seniors with friends and family

Julia Ward, 81, felt stripped of her social life when the pandemic hit because she was no longer able to see friends or attend her usual meetings with other seniors near her home in New Jersey. It's been a lonely time that so many of us can relate to, but life got brighter for Julia when she was introduced to Uniper.

"It has made me more sociable… and now I don't have that feeling anymore of loneliness," Ward said.

Uniper is an Israeli tech company that gives users the chance to see and interact with one another through their at-home TV screens. At any given time, you can turn on your TV and log onto Uniper to take live classes like yoga and trivia. There are also classes offered in multiple languages. The system comes with a small box, video camera, and remote control that work with any TV, as long as you have an internet connection.

"It allows you to get that sense of social activity again that was taken away from us by the pandemic and all the restrictions that we've had to undergo for our own safety," said Carlos Herrera, Uniper coordinator.

For Holocaust survivor David Lefkovics, Uniper's most useful feature is the chance to make video calls using WhatsApp through his TV. Lefkovics has been able to video chat with his children abroad.

"I have two daughters in Israel and I used to go every year but the last two years I can't go no more," Lefkovics said.

David is a member of the nonprofit Jewish Family Service of Central NJ. The organization ran several in-person social groups for seniors before the pandemic and has now paired with Uniper to secure grants for its elderly members so that these high-tech services could be accessed for free. Normally it costs $50 per month plus a $180 installation fee.

"All of these activities were disbanded as a result of the pandemic and we found this to be a wonderful tool," said Tom Beck, the executive director of the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ.

As the seniors who use Uniper continue to fight through this pandemic one day at a time, they're comforted knowing that their friends and family are just a few clicks away.

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