BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Editors Note: This is the second of our weekly salutes to those responding with ingenuity and compassion to COVID-19.
“The coronavirus crisis is proving that The Village concept really works and really serves people. Our members, committees, and staff are all coming up with creative, potent ways of staying connected and helping one another. If there was doubt in anyone’s mind that the sense of belonging to one another matters, something like this totally erases that doubt.” —Karen Terry, Board President, The Village Chicago
At this time of deep isolation and loneliness, sometimes all you need is a phone call. What if you multiplied that by 500? And kept each one fresh and full of feeling. The Village accepted that challenge and met it with aplomb.
Part of a nationwide movement for individuals over 50, The Village Chicago supports all aspects of well-being through social engagement, an extensive services and referral network, lifelong learning, health and fitness, intergenerational relationships, and work and purpose.
Niki Fox, Director of Member Services, shared, “The response from our personal calls was universally positive. Members and their families expressed immense gratitude for this connection, expressed concern for one another, and offered ways they could safely contribute to help, whether it be in making weekly calls, helping members learn online skills such as grocery ordering, using Zoom, or dropping off supplies at doorsteps for others.”
Village CEO Darcy Evon explained, “The coronavirus caused us, along with our numerous community partners, to immediately suspend our numerous in-person meetings and events, disrupting all of our essential operations. Putting on our problem-solving hats, we rapidly developed a game plan to speak with all of our 500 members and key supporters, and we also decided to implement a series of virtual events that would be fun and engaging for members and their families.”
She says that even just a few weeks ago, no one on their team “had much of an idea of what Zoom was or what it could do for The Village. Now, we are becoming experts. We are using the video technology to refocus our most popular events as engaged discussions. So ‘Saturday at the Movies with Mel Washburn’ evolved into people watching a movie he selected on Netflix or Amazon and then calling into a video chat on Saturday to discuss it. Turnout has been terrific! People really like the video chats once we show them how to use it. We are scheduling virtual events around book clubs, trivia night, cooking discussions, cocktail parties, new member meetings, memoir writing, card games—all kinds of things. For people who were always homebound, it has dramatically expanded their social network.”
Jonathan Tague, Director of Membership and Engagement, echoes Evon’s observations: “The one-on-one connections and the group meetings via Zoom have helped solidify and inspire membership and active volunteerism. We always had a strong support base in Chicago but rallying around helping others through this crisis has energized the Village community and has dramatically broadened our impact.”
Evon says they continue to do daily staff meetings and implementation plans via Zoom to stay connected, focused, and creative. “Unexpected expenses are a challenge and fundraising is a challenge, but every day something wonderful happens and we keep moving forward. For example, one of our partners, the makers of Cubii, a compact seated exercise machine, donated 25 units to Village members to enable them to stay active and fit without leaving their homes. Members loved it!”
Karen Terry notes the teamwork during this time that she’s witnessed, describing it as “magnificent.” “Everyone is finding new and rewarding ways to care for and about one another. We’re going to get through this,” she says. “And when we do, we’re going to discover on the other side of this crisis that we have a bunch of new tools as a Village for serving, engaging, and connecting.”
Evon shares, “My advice for others is to stay engaged. Go for walks or exercise indoors, write a journal, get lingering home projects completed, read books, watch movies online, call your friends and neighbors, volunteer for your favorite organizations—including the Village! We can help people get connected and build rewarding friendships, support the community and get help when they need it.”
“Older adults have so much to offer their communities, and we work hard to integrate them into the fundamental fabric of Chicago through active engagement,” she continues. “Sharing ideas and resources, connecting members to each other, and supporting each other remotely is working. We are grateful to see that ‘distancing’ is bringing our community even closer together.”
Classic Chicago welcomes your suggestions for our weekly Salutes.