A group of people on a computer screen.

Community Engagement (CE) and Aging With Empowerment (AWE) continue to engage participants in a unique and challenging format. As a result of the pandemic, the programs cannot run in-person at full capacity, and some participants are actively choosing to stay home. With seven sites across St. Louis, the programs are offering both in-person and virtual supports to all participants who want to be engaged in various activities.

New Activities

The CE and AWE sites offer a weekly event calendar, averaging 30 events each week. Participants, both in-person and at home, are able to select the activities they want to attend and join via Zoom. Event topics range from interactive cooking and Zumba classes to educational sessions like the history of African Americans in Baseball or a review of the news.

Program ideas are generated from a variety of sources. Some staff members are sharing their personal hobbies like gardening and bike riding. Other ideas are the results of a participants personal outcomes and goals. However, the relationships that staff members have with participants are bringing about some of the more creative ideas. Because staff have built relationships with participants, they have been able to identify and encourage engagement in new ways.

Participant Led

Frank, a participant of the CE program, has been engaged from his home. Staff identified early on that Frank missed being able to paint with watercolors at the site. They were able to send his watercolor supplies home, and his residential staff support him getting set up for painting from home, while his CE staff supports him in leading a watercolor painting class for anyone in CE and AWE to paint along with him.

A popular event has been Lets Talk with MJ. MJ and his support staff make flashcards of commonly used words. The staff will share the word and MJ teaches those in attendance how to sign the word using American Sign Language. MJ signs the word several times, from several angles so everyone can learn.

Another participant, Danny, traditionally utilizes his art to communicate with others. He has worked closely with his support staff to identify topics that he is passionate about to teach to others. He often creates artwork pertaining to the topic while his staff discusses what they have learned together. A recent event they led was celebrating Black History Month by discussing African American Scientists.

As the programs have evolved through the pandemic, staff have identified ways to encourage engagement among participants. Events start with everyone saying hello to each other and doing introductions. At the end of program participants can discuss what they learned from the session or what they enjoyed. These small aspects of the program are helping participants work on communication skills.

The Bright Side

There have been many unforeseen benefits of holding the CE and AWE programs both virtually and in-person. A recent snow day didnt mean completely canceling the program due to road conditions. Zoom allowed for the program to continue with more people logged on virtually. While all seven sites often try to come together throughout the year, this new format allows participants at different sites to interact daily. Having a weekly schedule of Zoom links has also provided some participants with more freedom to do their own scheduling and provided them an outlet to be more involved.

Overall the staff and participants are continuing to stay creative, and most importantly they are staying involved and engaged. They are learning new skills while maintaining friends and creating new ones. Participants are finding their voices in unexpected ways and staff couldnt be more excited!