With the help of an online social platform, a local organization hopes to bridge the loneliness gap for Northwest Indiana seniors struggling to connect.
Northwest Indiana Community Action recently partnered with Secure Senior Connections, an online community for individuals 60 and older that offers benefits such as live events, social groups and health information.
The goal of the platform is to empower seniors to live a healthier and happier life, says Claudia Pena, communications manager for Northwest Indiana Community Action (NWICA).
“Through this partnership, we want to help seniors lead healthier lives – mentally and physically,” she said. “With over 30 interest groups, more than 50 monthly live virtual events and exclusive content focused on empowering seniors to live their best lives, there is something for everyone.”
Nearly one-third of all seniors live by themselves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the last few years, NWICA began taking a closer look at options to combat social isolation for older adults, many of whom spent months alone during the pandemic.
“There are many different platforms, but NWICA really liked Secure Senior Connections,” said Jennifer Malone, NWICA chief operating officer. “We had many months of conversations about the benefits of the Secure Senior Connections platform and how it could benefit the older adults in our community.”
With the aid of American Rescue Plan funding, Malone says the agency was able to explore this new service.
Designed with and for older adults, the Secure Senior Connections platform has an easy-to-use interface and allows members to form new relationships based on shared life experiences and interests, Pena says. The platform is free for users thanks to NWICA’s sponsorship.
“One of the goals with partnering with Secure Senior Connections was to provide a space where people 60 and older can feel safe and connected when we know that senior isolation and loneliness is prevalent in our community,” Pena said.
Members also receive targeted, exclusive content on medical topics including brain health and fall prevention that encourages them to take better care of themselves, she says.
Seth Smiley, director of partnerships at Secure Senior Connections, works with local agencies such as NWICA to launch the virtual community centers within their populations. He says every individual who signs up for the platform views a custom webpage that reflects that person’s interests.
“We provide different paths toward community and engagement on our website,” he said. “When a person signs up for our secure site, we ask them questions about their interests. Some people like live events, and so we might recommend certain live events for that individual. If we find they like cooking and travel, we’re going to recommend a group on their homepage that they join.”
A user’s homepage also will feature the last person with whom they chatted, as well as a navigation bar that includes links to events, groups and activities such as volunteering.
“They can use the platform for whatever they want and as much as they want,” Smiley said. “We’re going to make recommendations, but their journey is their own.”
Smiley says the platform has also taken several steps to ensure a safe and secure experience for the more than 27,000 users. Anyone who signs up must be invited by an official organization, such as NWICA or a local senior center. Live moderators monitor the site, and IT safeguards are in place to prevent the sharing of Social Security and credit card numbers on the platform.
When an individual signs up for Secure Senior Connections, the only information taken is a name, email address, phone number, ZIP code and traits and interests. All users are verified, he said.
Users also complete a short loneliness assessment that helps the platform suggest certain services or activities, Smiley said. No personal health or financial information is acquired.
Through partnerships with organizations such as NWICA and member feedback, Smiley says, the platform is continually adding content. Recently, Secure Senior Connections added an LGBTQ+ group and a Black classical musicians live event based on user interest, he said.
“We’re continually evolving as an organization to meet where our community is going,” he said.
In the coming weeks, a Northwest Indiana Community Action community support supervisor will visit senior community centers in the Region to give presentations on Secure Senior Connections and help seniors with the sign-up process, Pena said.
“This is a very innovative platform that we are working very hard to share and educate seniors and providers about what it is and what benefits come along with signing up to Secure Senior Connections,” she said.
By: Christine Bryant Times correspondant