In the past few months the phrase “stay at home” has taken on a whole new meaning, with school, play, work, and connection all forced indoors. But for Wilton’s senior citizens, Stay at Home in Wilton, Inc has been working for a decade to help homebound individuals stay connected. Now, the 501 (c)(3) public charity is going one step beyond, helping everyone connect with a digital twist.

Facing the added challenges of social distancing, Stay at Home in Wilton used Google Hangouts to create a new episode of its “The Story Next Door” podcast, because staying at home has never been so “pertinent,” Lisa Roman, board member of Stay at Home in Wilton and founder of the podcast said.

Roman started the podcast in November with the purpose of bringing two Wilton generations together. Each episode featured a Wilton senior citizen sitting down to talk with a high school student. However, when CT Gov. Ned Lamont issued his stay at home advisory, the organization saw that “the meaning [of] ‘stay at home’ now is much more relevant to a wider audience,” Roman said.

“The whole concept to the podcast was bringing the generations [together], but also maybe bringing together people who you might not necessarily sit down and have a talk with,” Roman explained. “Really the whole [reason] that we started the podcast was to get the generations talking–to get people to connect because that can only benefit the community.”

On April 10, Stay at Home in Wilton released its third podcast episode with hosts Sally Maraventano Kirmser, president of Stay at Home in Wilton, and Connor Allen, a Wilton High School junior and an active board member of the WHS Key Club, which works closely with the Wilton Kiwanis Club.

This was the first time the organization produced the podcast virtually, and although using the new technology did come with a learning curve, Roman said she was happy with the results.

The episode flowed like a conversation, but Allen and Kirmser primarily discussed the importance of connecting in a time where staying separated from others is crucial. Allen shared how life had changed.

“For me staying at home, it’s definitely a pretty big drastic adjustment in my life,” he said in the podcast. “Being in high school I’ve always been out and about, running from activity to activity but it’s pretty crazy now that everything is completely within my house or in my computer.”

Kirmser discussed how Stay at Home in Wilton has been working to intentionally connect with people despite the distance, with the board sending out emails, posting information on the group’s website, and calling every member once a week.

“Fear is big. Fear and anxiety–I think we all have it right now and it’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Kirmser said. “It’s a good thing to talk about either with your parents or your siblings or certainly your friends.”

The pair also discussed the importance of connecting, whether through the optional zoom meetings WHS is offering for Allen, or reaching out to friends individually. Kirmser shared how easy it was to reach out in Wilton, and about the strength of the community. Having lived in Wilton since 1978 and raising a family here, she reflected on how Wilton “was a community even then.”

“Immediately we were taken in and became part of everything,” Kirmser said in the podcast. She added that having lived here for so long, she has intentionally reached out to neighbors and acquaintances as well in the area to make sure they’re okay. “We have neighbors who live alone in these big houses here and I’m sure that’s true in New Canaan as well and just because they have the means it doesn’t mean that they have the connection to people and I think you really need that,” Kirmser said. “When you’re older you need that all the time but in a crisis you really need it.”

Beyond talking about the pandemic, Allen and Kirmser took the idea of connection to heart. The conversation expanded to movies, music, cooking, family, college, and community events. The conversation flowed easily, and the two hosts found common ground on almost every topic.

Perhaps the most touching part of the conversation was when they discussed their gratitude for Wilton and how easy it is to make a new connection.

“You realize you can make a quick, new connection pretty easily with anyone here,” Allen said, using the example of bumping into fellow Wilton Warriors at the airport to show how the Wilton community means something.

Thanks to the exciting new format, the 26-minute-long episode is available both in video and audio format. The two other podcasts can be found on the Stay at Home in Wilton website, and Roman said the group hopes to produce another podcast in the next three or four weeks.

Roman said she hopes people who listen to it learn a little bit more about the person “next door” to them, as the podcast’s namesake invokes, and that it helps listeners find deeper connection in the community.

“We don’t want to be an insular group. So while we’re all promoting for our members to connect with each other, you have to look at the community around you,” Roman said. “The whole concept for the podcast is that we need to connect more in the community.”

She hopes that people who listen to the podcast will feel connected, and also welcomes new ideas for connections or people to highlight.

“One thing that this [pandemic] is showing is that we are a community, we support each other and we help each other,” Roman said. “I think that’s really a bright spot.”

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