Senior Center Without Walls: Opportunities for Connection and Community from Your Home
by Audrey Demmitt
As you go through the holidays and start thinking about the new year, I am sure that, like everyone else, you are considering what's ahead for you. Based on my own experiences this past year, I highly recommend that you consider involvement in the Senior Center Without Walls, as a volunteer and/or participant. Find out why!
What is Senior Center Without Walls?
Senior Center Without Walls (SCWW) is an innovative outreach program for seniors which offers activities, education, friendly conversation, and an assortment of classes, support groups, and presentations all done over the phone or computer. Each week, seniors can access over 70 groups or classes by phone or online from the comfort of home and it is FREE! Currently, over 600 participants and 75 volunteers from all over the U.S. come together on conference calls to enjoy each other’s company and create a very special community.
This award - winning program began in 2004 and is sponsored by Episcopal Senior Communities. It is a non-profit and non-denominational program inspired by the DOROT University Without Walls program in New York which dates back to the 1970’s. DOROT means "generations" in Hebrew and a group of college students first launched this outreach to seniors in their own community. The original mission was to provide seniors who are isolated or homebound an opportunity to engage and connect with a larger community and to honor them with dignity and respect. This mission continues today through the efforts of similar "Without Walls" programs in the U.S., Israel, Portugal, and Canada.
What are the Benefits of the Program?
SCWW has helped many aging and disabled participants fight off loneliness, boredom and declining mental and physical health. Some even say attending the SCWW groups "has been a lifeline" for them. The groups make a significant impact on those who participate. They are a place where people feel heard, are stimulated mentally, form friendships and receive joy from being a part of this program.
"A recent survey showed that approximately 70% of participants reported that calling and logging into Senior Center Without Walls groups increased their connection to others, reduced feelings of isolation, increased mental stimulation, and created a sense of community. It’s refreshing to know that innovative solutions can be as simple as writing a poem, sharing a gratitude, or playing bingo. The fact that folks can do all of these things from home is just icing on the cake." -Amber Carroll, Director
What Are the Groups Like?
Most groups have 5-12 participants and meet for one hour weekly for 10 -13 weeks. One popular group called a "Gratitude" meets for 30 minutes each morning to begin the day by sharing reasons to be grateful. "What a great way to start the day," says one participant who has been in this group for many years. I found the “Gratitude” group to be warm, welcoming and fun-loving. This group is even offered in Spanish and Russian. You can be an armchair traveler or study French or history. Maybe trivia or bingo is your thing! Perhaps you need a support group for a health issue such as chronic pain, diabetes or vision loss. Some groups read and discuss books and poetry. There are workshops to learn new skills like writing and lectures on special interest topics. The other day, I attended a lecture from the Health and Wellness group on understanding Medicare and Medicaid. The speaker was a health insurance advocate and it was an excellent presentation. There is something for everyone with a variety of options to entertain, support, and educate.
What About People Who Are Visually Impaired/
The Center offers a great opportunity for engagement for seniors with vision loss. Amber Carroll reports that in the current Fall session, 224 out of 627 participants are low vision or blind. That's 36%.
Who Facilitates These Groups?
The facilitators for the groups are all volunteers. Many are retired and have a passion for serving and sharing their knowledge and experiences. As a retired nurse, I am facilitating my first class with SCWW called "Diabetes Self-Care" and I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Program manager Katie Wade helps volunteers come up with ideas for engaging group topics and volunteers receive training and support to facilitate groups. Do you have a special interest, passion, or desire to volunteer? Senior Center Without Walls needs your time and talent. They are always looking to expand their groups and need volunteers with fresh ideas!
"Senior Center Without Walls is especially unique because it is truly 'by the people, for the people.' Most of the programs are facilitated by skilled volunteers who are also participants. This is a wonderful opportunity to contribute from the comfort of your home!" ~Katie Wade, Program Manager
How Do I Get Involved?
Maybe this concept appeals to you and you would like to give it a try -- either as a participant or a facilitator or both! Senior Center Without Walls is available to seniors who are interested in lifelong learning, support, fun, and engagement. As someone who is retired, visually impaired and often stuck at home alone, I find this opportunity very exciting!
SCWW has four sessions a year that are thirteen weeks long (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall). Groups and activities happen at different times throughout the session and a catalog of current offerings is available in print or online. We are wrapping up the fall session now and the Winter session begins January 9, 2017.
The staff at SCWW will walk you through the registration process and are happy to answer any questions. You can call today (877) 797-7299 or visit their website: SeniorCenterWithoutWalls.org. What are you waiting for? Enrich your life with SCWW in the new year!
Here is a Challenge for You!
The holidays are here and there will be many seniors who will feel lonely and disconnected from their families and communities. They may live next door to us or perhaps we see them shuffling home from a bus stop. Maybe they attend our place of worship or visit the same doctor’s office. Take the time to notice them, talk to them, and listen to them. Reach out this holiday season to honor a senior in your life in a special way. Bring them small gifts of food and cheer and remember, one day it may be you waiting for a visit from someone who cares.
Participating in Senior or Recreational Programs
Re: Senior Center Without Walls: Opportunities for Connection and Community from Your HomePosted by maribelsteel on 12/12/2016 at 3:39 PM
Audrey - this is amazing! How great to be in touch so easily. Wonder how we can expand the service to Australia and New Zealand? Such a fabulous concept, really appreciate you telling us about SCWW.
Re: Senior Center Without Walls: Opportunities for Connection and Community from Your HomePosted by Quietwater on 12/12/2016 at 4:36 PM
Every Christmas season, I have made up plates of cookies, trays with a loaf of bread surrounded with cookies for friends and family. One of course goes to my fellow workers. When my two daughters were small, I started having me help. They loved using cookie cutters and sprinkling colored sugar or candy sprinkles over trays of cookies before baking. I asked them to choose one person each that they wished to play Secret Santa too. We made deliveries to their chosen person, rang the bell and hurried away. Our Santa gifts arrived with a card letting the recipient know that the goodies were from a friend who wanted them to have a happy holiday season. I was delighted when they thoughtfully picked elderly people who lived alone in our neighborhood or attended our church alone. As adult women, I smile when I see them pull down a star from the tree at Walmart to buy gifts for someone they don't even know. Being a secret Santa is just part of Christmas. On Saturday, friends and I gathered to make up kits based on the shampoo, soap, and lotions we pick up from hotels as we travel. We add candy, shoe laces, toothbrushes, combs and other things from the dollar store. I am still baking cookies for this year's trays.
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