While senior and assisted-living communities can be wonderful options for seniors who are no longer able, or no longer want, to live on their own, there are still some obstacles they have to face. Lack of communication with the outside community, lack of activities and lack of socialization, and an increase of isolation are just some of those hurdles.
To combat these problems and promote senior well-being, four local nonprofit agencies have collaborated to create Coming of Age, a grant- and Maryland-funded program. The program, a partnership of the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (JCCGW), the Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA) and Premier Homecare, aims to provide recreation and professional services to prevent isolation and promote socialization. It is open to any senior living in Montgomery County and is free of charge.
Coming of Age offers monthly activities, including trips and events at local restaurants, the JCC, theaters and the Montgomery County-based age-restricted community Leisure World.
Leisure World originally wasn’t a part of the program, said Selma Sweetbaum, former director of senior services at the JCCGW. She soon realized that the zip code of the Silver Spring community had the largest number of seniors in the state.
“Connecting [Leisure World] with the JCC could only be a positive thing,” Sweetbaum said. “It’s a wonderful possibility for all the agencies to work together. It strengthens the agencies and provides credible services to seniors.” Coming of Age’s programs are also open to non-Jews.
The Jewish community should see Leisure World as a hub, according to resident Fred Shapiro.
“Leisure World, being where it is, is a perfect place for an outreach program for the Jewish community. Putting programs at Leisure World also made it available” to other senior living communities, Shapiro said. “The Coming of Age program brought the Leisure World Jewish community into the Washington Jewish community.”
Coming of Age attracts seniors from many different backgrounds and religions. Shapiro said this is a plus for the program, which receives funds from the state of Maryland as well as from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the United Jewish Endowment Fund.
The idea of Coming of Age is to help seniors age in place, said Frieda Enoch, the program’s director. “We want to keep them living where they are,” and provide activities and stimulation through activities.
“It’s a wonderful program with a mission of enabling and giving opportunity for [seniors] to socialize,” she added. Enoch, along with JCCGW staffers Melanie Greenfield and Meryl Trachtman, coordinate events and arranging outings.
“They love the opportunity to go to places they no longer can get to,” Enoch said. “[It allows them] to continue to live their lives fully.”
Among the most popular events are film screenings, which are followed by a discussion. “We seek out films that are unusual and worthy of conversation and that are not frequently available to them,” Enoch said. “On average, 150 come out for that.”
Past events have included trivia games at restaurant outings, trips to the National Harbor, musical programs and more recently, last month’s dance-filled JCC social. Another popular event is the Health and Wellness Expo, held at Leisure World in May.
Coming of Age also provides professionals at the programs to help with group or individual needs. Beth Shapiro, a clinical social worker at JSSA, is on hand to help attendees.
“We’re trying to prevent isolation,” Shapiro said. “If we can have a place for people to go with friends or to meet new friends, it’s enormously valuable.”
Although the program is for seniors’ enrichment, Shapiro meets with people at the programs, and says sometimes participants will come to her with a personal problem. Whether they’re frustrated with their living situation, having financial issues or lack of family contact, Shapiro said she is there to support them and direct them to agencies that can help.
“As they encounter new challenges in life, we’re there for them and they know it,” Shapiro said, noting that many attendees have been living at various local homes for a long period of time. “I often call us professional friends. They really get to know us on a different level.”
For more information about Coming of Age enrollment and the services it provides, call 301-348-3832 or go to jssa.org.