A Virtual Community of Leaders, Learners and Friends

by Mary Keen

The Virtual Senior Center (VSC) is a collaboration of CJE and Selfhelp Community Services in New York to bring interactive web-based classes and a means of socialization through technology to isolated older adults in Chicago communities. In addition to taking part in a variety of discussion groups and classes virtually, participants are also able to learn how to navigate the web and connect to family and friends through email, Skype, Facebook, games, the news, and much more—all from their homes through senior-friendly,
touch screen computers.

Because social engagement is especially important for older adults, particularly those who depend on remote family members or who are going through life transitions such as the loss of a spouse, the VSC is a welcome conduit of instruction and fellowship for participants. They are able to meet new people and forge friendships—even relationships—all while gaining new skills.

Through classes and other activities, the VSC has enabled the creation of an active, engaged online community. The program offers a new means of making friends. “Even if we’re only looking at each other through the computer screen, the friendships, are nice,” says Bonnie a VSC user. “My hope is that this program will expand so many others across the country will have this opportunity.”

Currently there are more than 200 participants nationwide and 40 participants from Chicago, and the growth potential is great as more classes are offered and more people sign on.

The many VSC classes, including “History Topics,” “TalkingTalmud” and “You Be the Judge,” offer ample opportunities  for voicing opinions, debating issues and sharing ideas, and frequent participants get to know each other quite well. Other unstructured conversations are carried on during Open Chats, a regularly scheduled time when folks can just talk with each other. These chats are an excellent forum for following up on things that happen in classes and just sharing the joys and challenges of aging with one another.

In Chicago, the VSC served as a catalyst for actual in-person meetings outside of class time: A VSC group organized an outing to a play and then feasted on dinner from the Lakeview kosher restaurant, Milt’s Barbeque for the Perplexed. A group of women also met on the Fourth of July to celebrate the holiday. Bringing people together in person to socialize and attend cultural events is another unexpected outcome of the VSC, strengthening the community even more.

The VSC provides a vital intellectual and social lifeline to its participants. It has indeed created a community of older adults who learn together, laugh together and share their experiences.


Open up your world to the enriching and stimulating classes offered by the VSC. If you are an older adult and would like to easily connect, learn and socialize through the VSC, or if you are a caregiver of a family member who might benefit from the VSC, call 773.508.1134 to find out more about it.