Monday, March 19, 2018

Building Community in Shenandoah County

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Director, Lee Senior Center
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation
2018 VRPS Senior Resource Group Chair

“To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future.”
Bertrand Russell 

I am certain we all agree that 99% of our work is involved in developing programs that bring people together. Something we all know is that quality of life is vastly improved when a person has the support of others, friends and professional providers. That’s why we read, brainstorm, attend conferences and network with each other -- to foster social connectedness for our customers. 

Social isolation and its effects on older adults has captured the attention of researchers and some advocacy groups. The most recent issue of The Gerontological Society of America’s Public Policy & Aging Report focuses on that topic. Loneliness increases the potential for health risks. To address this issue, AARP created Connect2Affect. This initiative draws on the research on social connectedness to create solutions and programs to address this public health issue. 

If you work in an urban or suburban setting there are challenges to supporting social connectedness. Transportation, language and disability are some of the barriers that still keep older adults from socializing with others. For older adults living in rural areas the risks increase. 

That is why we need to connect and learn from our Senior Resource Group colleagues who work in the rural parts of our state. Their creativity, passion and inventiveness is inspiring. 

Meet Teresa Funkhouser. She is the Senior Services Program Supervisor for the Department of Parks and Recreation in Shenandoah County. One of her primary responsibilities is managing the Active Adult Fellowship meetings, trips and programs for the active adult crowd. Building community, bringing people together through a common interest is pivotal to combatting social isolation in older adult.

Held throughout Shenandoah County, these events vary. Sometimes they include a museum tour, other meetings might involve a community service project. Often members lead presentations on trips, hobbies or topics of general interest.

Teresa has been a member of the Senior Resource Group and Virginia Parks and Recreation Society for nine years. Prior to working for Shenandoah County Parks and Rec, Teresa was a license insurance agent and customer service representative. Developing recreation programs for older adults is her encore career. “I have always loved the older generations and feel we can learn so much from them. I get great joy seeing them having a good time at our programs” Teresa tells me.

Her population is most likely going to change in the next several years. Demographic trends are showing that older adults and retirees tend to move to areas that offer a lower cost of living and beautiful scenery. These retirees are often active and engaged in their communities. If they move to Shenandoah Valley, they should contact Teresa for additional information.

Meeting and working with Teresa has been an honor. Her passion for working with older adults is palpable. How do you build community? We’d like to know.



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