The following is a summary of the workshop presented at the Aging in America conference by Amber Carroll and Katie Wade. Amber Carroll is Director and Katie Wade is Associate Director of Well Connected (formerly known as Senior Center Without Walls).
Setting the stage for their presentation, Well Connected Associate Director Katie Wade asked workshop participants to close their eyes and imagine someone they have a strong connection with. Around the room, she saw faces light up as people reflected on the warmth and happiness that comes from those relationships.
This simple exercise illustrated the importance of connection in people’s lives that Katie Wade and Director Amber Carroll have both seen in their work with Well Connected (formerly known as Senior Center Without Walls). “This week, would it be an exaggeration to say that you’ve heard the word ‘loneliness’ and ‘social isolation’ like a billion times?” Carroll noted. “Loneliness and social isolation have been going on since the beginning of time, but folks are starting to talk about it.”
Studies have only recently begun to calculate the health impact of loneliness and social isolation. Some studies have found that loneliness has the same negative effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes or drinking 6 alcoholic beverages a day. Wade points out, “When I go to my yearly physical, I’m asked to fill out something about how often I drink or if I’ve ever been a smoker. But very rarely am I asked if I’m feeling lonely or if I’m feeling connected. But we know it has the same physical impact.”
Carroll notes, “This is why everyone is talking about it now. We’re seeing these real health connections to loneliness, and realizing that loneliness costs buckets of money.”
Well Connected addresses the issue of loneliness through the mutual support and reciprocal relationships provided by participants, many of whom also become group facilitators. Rather than trying to fix the problem for others, Well Connected emphasizes that participants are able to help one another. “The model of giving and receiving is what makes our program unique,” says Wade.
As an example, Wade spoke of Lynnie, whose photo is featured above. Lynnie has been a participant and facilitator for Well Connected for over a decade, facilitating at least 100 groups. After Lynnie’s recent diagnosis, she decided to facilitate a group called “Living Through Dying” for the upcoming Well Connected session, which begins April 9.
As a phone based program, Well Connected also is very accessible for people with vision loss. Along with large-print catalogs, information is available in braille and in audio form. This year, Well Connected is hosting the second National Conversation on Aging and Vision Loss, presented by the American Foundation for the Blind, on May 4th.
Well Connected helps break down barriers and bring together diverse populations. Carroll explains, “There can be somebody who’s in their SRO in the Tenderloin here in San Francisco participating with someone in New York who’s in their penthouse Central Park home, connecting around a central interest in a topic. You just don’t see that in a senior center that’s geographically bound in a particular neighborhood.”
Wade adds, “When I came to the program, it really challenged some of the biases that I had. For example, I knew Gloria, a participant, maybe for three months on the phone before she mentioned she was in a wheelchair. I had pictured her as this 20-year-old blonde. It really challenged the stereotypes that I hold.”
Unlike many other senior programs or communities, Well Connected groups take place seven days a week, giving seniors activities to participate in over the weekend. One of its long-running groups, Gratitude, has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, meeting every day at 9:00 am and expanding to a second group at noon. Wade shares, “We have developed a culture of gratitude in part because we do this every day, twice a day, seven days a week.”
“This has been an amazing job,” Wade adds. “I often think, ‘Am I getting to do this and being paid for this?’ To join the calls, to work with the volunteers, to plan the programs. But also, I don’t think a day goes by where we don’t get a positive report from someone saying, ‘Here’s how this has impacted me.’ And some of the ones that really stick with me are people who were feeling pretty serious depression and thoughts of suicide when they came to us. We’re not here as a therapeutic intervention but we know that social connection does address those issues. We’ve had people say, ‘I’d do anything for Well Connected because this program saved my life.’”
To download the most recent Well Connected catalog, click here. To register for the Spring session, which runs from April 9-July 8, call Well Connected at 877-797-7299. You can also visit their page on the Covia site.
January 21-27 is Activity Professionals week. But what is an activity professional? And what do they do?
“From an outsider’s perspective, one assumes that we play bingo every day. This is not the case,” says Connie Yuen, Program Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “Our activities aim to stimulate the mind and body, awaken your senses, enrich lives and make an impact to the culture of our community.”
Executive Director Mary Linde agrees. “What is amazing about activities/life enrichment at St. Paul’s is that it truly is Life Enrichment. The kinds of activities are broad and so engaging. We bring residents across all levels of care together so no one feels marginalized.”
The activities at each community vary depending on the interest of the residents. Megan Sullivan from San Francisco Towers says, “The majority of programs provided at SFT are based on resident input; they help support the unique culture here. As Life Enrichment Director, I work directly with the [Resident] Program Committee to schedule all special concerts and lectures. I also add my own programming, based on resident interests, such as online talks from the Harvard Institute of Politics.”
Activities are also designed with the eight aspects of wellness in mind: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social and Spiritual.
“Activity professionals create programs to be beneficial and therapeutic to increase overall well-being and quality of life in individuals, by determining their interests and finding what activities provided can best suit them,” says Alexis Kendrix, Director of Activities at Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto.
“I wish that people knew more about the benefits of participating in wellness activities. People should want to participate in activities because of the enjoyment and fulfillment, instead of just to keep busy. Providing activities that are of people’s leisure interests is meaningful to their overall well-being,” Kendrix adds.
Mary Lou Kelpe, Director of Wellness for Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, explains, “When we go to Point Lobos State Reserve with multiple docents and have a picnic, it’s much more than a walk and lunch. It’s Emotional, Environmental, Intellectual, Physical, Social and Spiritual Wellness. I believe that’s why we feel so great, after spending time engaging in nature.”
“The active imaginations and energy of our professionals working in tandem with the residents lead to extraordinary events and activities,” says Norma Brambilla, Executive Director of Canterbury Woods. “Truly the trick is finding some one thing to entice each person. Variation is key. The challenge to these professionals is never-ending and their caring and ideas are boundless. It would be so boring without them!”
Welcome to our blog. We know that company blogs are everywhere, and some may think them passé, but we are excited to get started.
We wanted a place to share information about the programs, activities, resources, and events we have to offer. We wanted a place to share the wisdom of so many people who work, live, and volunteer with us. And we wanted a place where we could comment on the areas that impact seniors wherever they live.
This space will provide a channel to express in the moment on what’s important to us, to reflect on our history and heritage, and to look forward to the good things we believe are to come.
We hope you’ll join in and that this blog will give you resources you can use as you navigate your own path into healthy and successful aging.