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Village Connector Experience: Reaffirming, Rebuilding, and Rejecting Social Isolation

Aging sometimes brings a drop in social activity and shrinking of our social networks. This may be due to changing interests, decreased mobility, income restrictions, or family and friends moving to retirement areas. We can become isolated. The COVID-19 crisis presents challenges and opportunities on this issue.

The pandemic has heightened everyone’s sense of isolation to unparalleled levels, due to required physical distancing. If we don’t address this need differently, then loneliness will deepen, especially in older adults, impacting their mental and physical health. We do not have to accept that scenario. Even if we don’t have the ability to see each other in person as we did a few months ago, there are important steps to strengthen connections in our life right now.

The Juanita C. Grant Foundation (JCGF) has developed a thoughtful response to the pandemic’s physical and social distancing. On July 1, JCGF launched the Village Connector Experience (VCE), a nation-wide service through our Technical Assistance and Resource Center. The VCE is an outreach service for older adults who would benefit from increased social engagement.

Outreach calls are scheduled 1-3 times per week by certified Ambassadors who have completed a training course. The Ambassadors utilize active listening, motivational skills, and reflective conversation techniques to guide VCE members to re-engage with friends, family, and prior interests. “Experiences” are created with the member using small steps such as discussing the member’s interests in books, performing chair exercises together or listening to jazz music during the call.

Ambassadors create incentives for the member to reach out on their own to seek needed selfcare services and engage in activities. Coffee clutches, short story readings and tea times are virtual activities that are offered either individually or collectively to bring larger numbers of members together. Tangibles such as letters, greeting cards and surprise packages will provide a reminder to members they are respected and valued.

VCE not only provides a consistent comforting voice, it assists the member with tools to rebuild or find new relationships and re-engage with the community to improve their quality of life. The reason VCE outreach is so powerful, it breaks the cycle of social isolation by shifting the focus to the member and reaffirming the value the member brings to the world. That sense of validation and being “seen” is instrumental in rebuilding in the new normal.

If you or someone you know is in need of opportunities to socialize, meet new people, or otherwise safely break the monotony of staying physically distant, learn more on our website.

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About S. Orlene Grant, RN, BSN, MSN

S. Orlene Grant, RN, BSN, MSN, is the President, Founder and CEO of the Juanita C. Grant Foundation. The Foundation is empowering the 50+ aging friendly community through advocacy and research efforts that address ageism, create economic security through workforce initiatives and address public policies that adversely affect the 50+ community. Ms. Grant has over 25 years in senior executive leadership positions managing multi-million dollar federal, local, private and public projects with health care institutions in the Greater Metropolitan region and Massachusetts.