Senior Community Connections (SCC) is a nonprofit organization that helps older adults remain independent in their homes and actively engaged in the community. This Davidson-based organization was recognized in 2022 for its work in the aging field, receiving the 2021 Centralina Region of Excellence ‘Aging in Action’ Award.
Through a network of volunteers, SCC provides transportation, technology support, advocacy, minor household repairs, errand assistance and social activities. Volunteers are also trained to be on the lookout for any potential challenges that members may face physically, mentally or environmentally. If they notice something of concern (ex. increased trouble getting around, trip hazards or reduced cognitive function), they inform the Director of SCC who either coordinates additional services for them or communicates directly with the member’s family when appropriate.
SCC has a robust calendar of events throughout the year, catering to a variety of interests and values. Workshops, lunch programs, exercise, cultural outings and congregate meals provide opportunities for their network of seniors to enjoy the company of one another. These opportunities for social connectedness decrease loneliness, a leading contributor to depression and many diseases. While services geared towards older adults, other in the community also benefit. Caregivers, especially adult children, are relieved of some of their caregiving duties, which can often become stressful or overwhelming and impact their day-to-day lives.
Centralina sat down with Board President Eliza Giduz to pick her brain on best practices and how to overcome growth challenges.
What issues have you encountered in the past year and how did you overcome them?
A pressing issue we face is how to grow our organization to meet the increasing need for our services. We adjusted our marketing to recruit more volunteers to keep pace with our growing membership. We are seeking counsel from leaders in our community on how to best expand our infrastructure and funding base. Through strategic discussion and the help of an organization that gives free guidance to growing non-profits, we are beginning to make the transition from a working board to a governing board. The fact that we had a successful fundraising year made it possible to hire additional paid staff to take tasks like volunteer management and administrative duties off the shoulders of our board members.
What advice would you give to other organizations who are starting to think about how to increase their community connection and may be less successful as it relates to quality of life for aging individuals?
Learn the resources in your community that are already in place. Chances are that many organizations/groups exist to serve the increasing needs of our aging population. The trick is to work collaboratively, rather than competing or duplicating efforts, so that each organization can contribute its part to the continuum of care and support needed. Establishing personal relations with others who have a similar interest in supporting seniors is essential. Even if a plan to work together at the moment is not evident, opportunities often arise later for collaboration.
What are some ways you hope to inspire others to act in improving the quality of life for their all ages?
By being visibly active in our community and maintaining a robust media presence, we hope to inspire others to volunteer to help their older friends, neighbors and family members remain independent and actively engaged in the community. Individuals exposed to our work can see that everyday people willing to donate even just little extra time can enrich lives through simple interactions with older folks who may feel isolated or forgotten.
What are your best successes? What do you hope others take away from the achievements of your program?
One success was withstanding the challenges of the pandemic. SCC was a very new agency prior to the start of the pandemic. While we limited service in accordance with health recommendations at the time, we maintained contact with our members through phone calls, emails and our newsletter. No one let their memberships lapse during that time, and we have seen significant and consistent growth for the past 18 months.
But our major success lies in forming life-sustaining relationships with our members. Research shows that isolation and loneliness are serious threats to the well-being of seniors, and meaningful human interaction is of primary importance to seniors’ happiness and good mental health. The services and social events are very successful in helping seniors thrive at home and in the community despite limitations imposed by illness or age. But perhaps more importantly, interactions among members and volunteers are also the basis of meaningful friendships. Of everything we have achieved, the most important is the formation of these significant relationships with seniors, who may be separated from friends and loved ones through distance or death, because they decrease loneliness, isolation and feelings of having been “shelved” by the greater community.
What are some highlights you hope the community could learn about inclusivity?
Our whole reason for being is inclusivity: there is an epidemic of loneliness among seniors that we are addressing by actively building connections with this often overlooked segment of our community. Roughly a fifth of our members are on scholarships or are sponsored, so a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds are included in our membership. We are working hard to recruit members from various backgrounds, religions and ethnicities to deepen the richness of our SCC community. Since disabilities of various sorts come with aging, we work to accommodate physical and mental differences as best we can.
A key to inclusivity is being present in diverse communities. This includes attending events in various parts of the community, being creative in how outreach is conducted and developing relationships with agencies and leaders who represent the demographics of the community.
The Senior Community Connections Board