CIESIELSKI: Zoom is a new way for older adults to stay connected
November 24, 2020
Have you ever traveled a familiar road or freeway only suddenly to find that it’s closed? You may grumble about the inconvenience or uncertainty of the experience, but your choices are limited: remain stuck or find an alternate route through a mix of faith and reason.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a similar scenario with its restrictions placed on face-to-face interactions enjoyed by parish senior groups.
Some parish senior clubs, organizations and families have adapted by using phone calls, emails, Facebook and other resources to help seniors feel connected and supported. Other seniors remain isolated and disconnected from others.
Finding hope in the storms of life is essential for every Christian. This is a story about a parish senior leader, Pauline Newman, who created a new pathway to help her seniors stay connected and to nurture Christ’s presence among them — through technology.
Pauline serves as president of St. Monica’s Silver Steppers senior club. She noted numerous parish ministry leadership roles, including being “the servant of the Lord.” This interview embodies the living of her daily morning prayer: “Lord, let me live a life of purpose and service.”
Why did you start Zoom video-conferencing meetings with your seniors?
I am like most seniors; I am not tech-savvy. But I think it’s important for us to get into the 21st Century or get left behind. We should thank God for this Zoom technology, just like we do microwave ovens and cell phones. I had participated successfully in other organizations’ Zoom meetings and saw it as an effective alternative when face-to-face gatherings were not possible. I viewed it as an opportunity for members to stay safely connected.
Our parish senior members are a tight-knit group who enjoy interacting with each other. Prior to COVID, it included frequent educational and social bus trips, sharing delicious meals and reaching out to members who were sick or homebound.
What is Zoom, and how does it work?
Zoom is an internet social platform used to create virtual meetings where you can see or at least talk with other members. To connect visually, a computer with internet or a smartphone is required, but one can access the audio by any phone. I created a paid Zoom account (there’s also a free version that limits meetings to 40 minutes) at www.Zoom.us. I schedule the monthly one-hour meeting time, then send an email link invitation to our members or a phone number to call if they don’t have internet access.
How did your members react when you first approached them and then after you started using Zoom?
Yes, four of our members were willing to share their responses for this story. June, at first, said this new technology was not for her because she was old-school but now enjoys calling in to connect with the members. Another member, Jane, liked the traditional phone conference phone calls but now goes across the street to another member’s home who has internet so she can enjoy seeing everyone. Bonnie was eager to join the meetings because of her familiarity with Zoom for business purposes. And Betty was comfortable joining because she had been introduced to Zoom meetings through the Knights of St. Peter Claver.
What are some challenges with using Zoom?
I recognized that our members had different levels of skill and comfort in utilizing Zoom as a communication medium — including me. At first, I was a bit afraid that I would click the wrong button and lose everybody. I reminded everyone that there would be a learning curve so that everyone would need to be patient and understanding with each other as we became familiar with Zoom’s features. We remained focused on the joy of connecting with each other.
What are some of the benefits?
In addition to the members being able to stay safely in touch as an organization, we share life events (e.g., illnesses, deaths) and ask for prayers. Also, members have developed confidence in learning new technology skills, which prompted some to create their own free Zoom accounts and stay safely connected with their families.
What’s an agenda like for a meeting?
A typical planned agenda for our Zoom meetings was similar to our face-to-face meetings except for the shared meals. This included an opening prayer, committee reports, birthday acknowledgments and shared exchanges on personal needs or organizational matters. Typically about 20 to 25 members join. At the end of the meeting, I leave the meeting room open if members want to continue to visit with each other.
Now that your members have been meeting since April, what are new possibilities to stay engaged virtually?
I would like to invite educational presenters to address various aging issues such as funeral planning or phone scams. (The Office of Aging offers a list of vetted community educators on a variety of aging topics).
What would you want to tell other seniors trying to stay safely connected about Zoom?
I would tell other seniors to try Zoom - to just do it! Zoom will never replace the warmth of face-to-face interactions, but it is a good alternative until we can meet safely in person. Our hope is that by utilizing Zoom now, we won’t feel like strangers when we restart face-to-face meetings. It helps us respond to each other’s personal and spiritual needs. It provides a sense of hope by giving us something to look forward to each month and keeps us mindful of the members who cannot connect with us.
For educational resources on aging, contact Mark Ciesielski at 713-741-8712 or email@example.com or visit www.archgh.org/aging. †
Mark Ciesielski is an associate director in the Office of Aging Ministry.