By Nicole Bruce
When the global coronavirus pandemic hit, the economy and our lives quickly came to a screeching halt with stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures in place. Many aspects of our lives radically changed—from grocery shopping with apps, to remote working with our children home from school, to visiting close family and friends safely outdoors with face coverings. One thing became abundantly clear: CJE would need to shift how we were offering our in-person programs and services for older adults. Virtual programs to enrich their lives—with even more persons now isolated in their homes—became our new reality.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated physical and mental health conditions caused by social isolation and loneliness among older adults who are more likely to live alone, experience the loss of family or friends, and struggle with chronic illness and hearing loss. Research links social isolation and loneliness to a range of high-risk physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, heart disease, and a weakened immune system, according to the National Institute on Aging. But studies show people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others can gain a sense of purpose, boost their mood, improve their cognitive function, maintain their well-being, and live longer. That’s why, before the pandemic, CJE’s Community Engagement team cultivated social atmospheres for older adults through in-person community programs like My Go-To Place, Instant Israel, health education classes, and more. Now, it’s hosting online programs such as Move It Monday, For the Health of It, My Go-To Place, Artsy Talks with Bri, Legends in Music, Yiddish Tish, and more through the new CJE Cyber Club, launched in March.
This new digital hub showcases a variety of virtual activities and resources, educational videos, and interactive, real-time programs. Staff from Adult Day Services, Counseling Services, Holocaust Community Services, Religious Life, Research, and Volunteer Services and professional guest speakers provide an ever evolving and expanding roster of free programs. Participants in Chicago and from around the country have tapped into the Cyber Club, with something for “virtually” every kind of lifelong learner. Participants can:
- Learn a new language like Spanish.
- Join book club discussions and browse our recommended reads.
- Tap into their own storytelling capabilities with writing prompts.
- Discover new games, even one that helps families talk about healthcare decisions.
- Find out how to borrow free e-books and audiobooks from the public library.
- Try a new craft project.
- Travel abroad, touring foreign countries virtually.
- Explore Shakespeare’s theater works.
- Listen to classical piano music.
- Make new friends through weekly music-themed discussions.
- Sing along to Yiddish songs and learn about Yiddish culture.
- Stay energized with a variety of fitness and stretching routines.
- Ease stress through guided mindfulness exercises.
- Read LifeNOTES—digital digests covering timely topics like sleep and technology.
- Connect with persons of all cognitive and memory levels in dementia-friendly music and art programs.
CJE Cyber Club has programs that you can enjoy live or access in a recorded program at your convenience. Here’s how they work:
Live Programs. Participants join real-time programs hosted primarily via the Zoom online meeting platform. Zoom lets them opt to see others and be seen through video and hear others and be heard through audio on their computers, tablets, or smartphones. They can also just listen by dialing in from a home phone. Since the programs are live or in “real time,” they need to be accessed at the scheduled times. Just click the link in the listing, then enter the password. You might need to register also.
In addition to streaming live and recorded programs online for participants tuning in from their own homes, CJE also televises these Cyber Club programs for residents living at Weinberg Community for Senior Living and Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation, as well as weekly pre-recorded religious services videos.
Thus, technology has allowed CJE to cast a wider net and reach more older adults and family caregivers. Barriers exist, of course. But while it’s a learning curve for all, we hope these new virtual programs will open doors to many at home. But we look forward to welcoming you back into our CJE communities “IRL” (“in real life”) in the future!