When the pandemic hit, one of the main concerns at JABA was senior isolation. Even pre-pandemic, isolation for seniors was a serious problem, leading directly to depression and negative health outcomes, so what could we do now that we had to close our onsite centers and limit our staff contact with seniors?

What’s more, while developing ways to connect online was a strategy for many businesses and organizations, JABA was dealing with many seniors who were already uncomfortable with or reluctant to use technology. Or who lived in rural locations with unreliable internet connections or available high-speed internet that was too costly.

However, what unfolded has been a revelation.

In addition to offering counseling service via Zoom and phone, making more frequent wellness calls, and stepping up our mailings, we also launched At Home with JABA, a virtual program offering weekly activities like yoga, bingo, standard exercise programs, discussions, and lectures on various topics that people could participate in as a group using Zoom and conference calls. Staff also encouraged and coached clients on the use of technology.

Admittedly, it was slow to catch on. But over the last six months, and even after we re-opened our centers, we’ve noticed that many seniors have embraced the idea. Staff members report that some seniors who have returned to our centers are often excited to go home afterward and participate in At Home with JABA activities. Even those who haven’t participated yet report they are intrigued, as JABA also mails out the online activities calendar, which includes an activity packet folks can use off-line.

“When we had to close our centers one of our seniors realized how lonely she was and how important the socialization had been,” said Crystal Donovan, director of the At Home with JABA program. “She said the weekly At Home with JABA conference calls and activities gave her something to look forward to.”

Indeed, a new AARP research report found that tech usage among older adults “skyrocketed” during the pandemic.

In 2019, AARP notes, half of those surveyed said they had never used video chat, but by 2020, 70% said they had, and 1 in 3 said they used it weekly. There were also double-digit percentage increases in the use of smartphones for ordering groceries, making appointments, filling prescriptions, health and fitness information, and financial transactions. Of course, that’s great, but it presents a challenge as well, as AARP also noted that these trends have exacerbated the digital divide for older adults.

Fortunately, major investments in broadband infrastructure could be coming to Central Virginia. As recently reported, millions in American Rescue Plan funds, as well as funds from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, could be used to bring fiber broadband to unserved areas in our surrounding counties.

Meanwhile, post-pandemic, the At Home with JABA program appears to be here to stay. Donovan says that a permanent technological connection between JABA’s centers – which are located in Charlottesville and five surrounding counties – will not only serve to combat the aforementioned isolation that many older adults experience, but it will also allow for a closer connection between JABA’s centers.

What’s more, JABA staff have discovered that the whole concept of “At Home with JABA,” even without the technology, has made home less of a lonely place for members.

“We had one of our Home Delivered Meals members call in after receiving her monthly activity packet in the mail and she was very excited,” says Donovan. “She admitted she doesn’t do technology, but at the same time she said loves everything we offer in our monthly mailing. She was actually going to try to make one of the healthy recipes that we had put in the packet for that month.”

To learn more about At Home with JABA contact Crystal Donovan at 434.872.3337 or athomewithjaba@jabacares.org.