Into the Future: CJE's Cyber Club Explores Virtual and In-Person Engagement

We offer both live scheduled programs as well as recorded programs that may be viewed any time.

Aside from a worldwide pandemic, chronic illness, mobility issues, lack of transportation, and other challenges can already make it difficult for many older adults to participate in community programs in person. While CJE’s Cyber Club was created to substitute in-person programming due to the risk of COVID-19, its range of virtual programming has made it easier for older adults to join engaging programs without leaving their homes—whether they have health difficulties or simply enjoy the sheer convenience of accessing programs virtually.

By Nicole Bruce

Its marked success over the past year has demonstrated that there’s a desire and need for more virtual classes for older adults in the community, even when vaccines eventually make it possible to return to “real life” gatherings. “The response to CJE’s Cyber Club has been tremendous, and we’ve learned so much that we’re making a commitment to continue offering our live virtual programs, even after our in-person programming returns,” said Catherine Samatas, CJE’s Community Engagement Manager.

“I attended ‘Move It Monday’ and was very impressed with how well planned the program was. I had purchased stretch bands before but had never gotten around to using them until this class. It showed me so many ways to use the bands! I’ll continue to attend in the future. Thank you to the instructor Kate!”
—F.M.,
Cyber Club exercise class participant

Cyber Club’s assorted online socialization and educational opportunities have been a bright spot for many participants. One Cyber Club participant, K.J., says, “This is the kind of thing that brings joy, comfort, camaraderie, and sunshine to our otherwise drab days.” Another participant, M.W., expressed gratitude after a recent program, “Thank you so much for these virtual programs! Very uplifting for all of us.”

CJE’s Community Engagement team is already planning for the next phase of community programming by identifying and arranging for new, transportable technology that can be used in class settings—like a wireless microphone and speaker system with clear sound quality that’s suitable for large groups and can connect with Zoom video meetings. This will help CJE simultaneously offer both live, in-person programs (when it’s safe to do so) and virtual experiences for those who prefer accessing classes from their homes. Ideally, virtual participants will be able to seamlessly integrate into live classes that are meeting in person.

“We’re looking into acquiring a large SMART Board and high quality, special microphones that work well with hearing aids and connect via Bluetooth to the Zoom platform at the same time,” said Samatas.“Our goal is to make older adults who are attending virtually and aren’t physically present feel like they’re still able to participate in our programs as if they are with our in-person participants and instructors.”

CJE’s Cyber Club currently gives like-minded older adults at home a chance to meet online and embark on virtual sightseeing tours, test new recipes in their own kitchens, discuss intriguing books and various STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics, learn new languages and about different cultures, experience live music, create works of art, stay fit physically and mentally, and so much more. CJE’s Community Engagement team is always looking to expand the program roster in new and exciting ways. In February, during Black History Month, CJE proudly partnered with Roseland Pullman community and Northlight Theatre for a storytelling workshop series as part of the Healing Illinois initiative to create and support a more racially equitable Illinois.

“Please, please pass on to the Lyric participants in today’s program how much we enjoyed each and every piece. Each performer gifted us with some of our favorites for our 64th anniversary. Memorable!”
—D.S.,
Lyric Opera virtual concert series attendee

A new virtual, dementia-friendly arts program, led by CJE Art Therapist Amri DeGuzman and funded by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, benefits both older adults and their families through a variety of discussion topics around works of art. A.D., whose father now regularly joins “Artsy Talks with CJE,” shares her appreciation: “I’m so grateful for this program—my dad really enjoys it! And it’s really fun for me to see him participate. We now look at art together during the week because I see how much he enjoys talking about it.”

Cyber Club’s mission from the get-go has always been about connecting people and fostering those relationships, no matter how far apart we might physically be.

How to Participate

CJE’s Cyber Club programs are free and open to all, and most are accessible through Zoom with both video and telephone dial-in options. For the latest details about Cyber Club offerings, be sure to check our website at cje.net/cyberclub. Once you’ve signed up for something, you will receive email reminders, so you won’t miss your program. You can also have info on the latest programs delivered straight to your email inbox by signing up for Cyber Club’s weekly e-newsletter at the above website. Plus, get alerts for bnew videos by subscribing to our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/CJESeniorLife.