Laura Newland, executive director, DC Office of Aging and Community Living

I hope you will join me in celebrating Black History Month. I feel so fortunate to live in a city where Black history is acknowledged and celebrated every day, and I don’t need to wait for February to learn about the many contributions of African Americans to this city. I’m reminded every time I’m out in the community about how many of you have contributed to, and shaped, the story of Washington, D.C. And how you continue to do so every day.

Our Community Events Calendar this month includes several Black history celebrations taking place throughout the city, and I also encourage you to engage with your neighbors and the younger members of your community. Share your experiences. Talk about how hard you’ve worked to build this city, and how hard you’re working now to keep this city a place where you want to continue to live. You may not realize how interested people are in hearing your story until you make that connection.

We know how important intergenerational connections are in building community, and I’m excited for some of the programs we have been working on at the Office on Aging.

For Valentine’s Day, we’ll be sending something extra special with our home-delivered meals to seniors throughout the city. Students from eight DC Public Schools volunteered to make handmade Valentine’s Day cards for homebound seniors as part of our Cupid’s Kids initiative. I hope this gesture of kindness will lift spirits, but will also serve as a teachable moment for our youngest residents that they have a responsibility in creating, and contributing to, their community.

Our goal this year was to send homemade Valentine’s Day cards to 2,600 recipients of DCOA’s home-delivered meals program. Thanks to the overwhelming response from DCPS students, teachers and administrators, we far surpassed this goal and will be sending Valentine’s cards to more than 4,000 seniors! Seniors attending Adult Day Health Centers and those who receive case management support in their homes will also be receiving notes and cards created by the youngest members of our community.
When Mayor Muriel Bowser talks about the foundations of a strong community, she reminds us that “the success of our city rises and falls on the people of Washington, D.C.” Through the Cupid’s Kids initiative, DCPS students are exemplifying Mayor Bowser’s vision of our shared values bringing us together for a greater cause. I am so proud of our DCPS students and grateful for the teachers and administrators for reinforcing D.C. values and teaching the youngest members of our city how they can make a difference in the community — one individual at a time.

If you had a chance to join me at one of my town halls last month, you heard me talk about the risk of social isolation among seniors living in D.C. More than half of seniors in the District live alone, according to our 2016 Senior Needs Assessment. Many seniors living alone are at higher risk of social isolation. And we know there are a number of negative health outcomes tied to isolation, including depression, heart disease, weakened immune system, and dementia. The good news is that social isolation is not inevitable, nor is it irreversible. We all have a duty, as members of this community, to reach out to others who may be silently suffering alone, just as our DCPS students have done.

At DCOA, we are working hard to make sure we can reach our most vulnerable and isolated populations, but we need your help. Next month, we will be building on our Ambassador program to provide more opportunities for you to volunteer in the community and with our office. We will be offering quarterly Ambassador training sessions covering a variety of issues around aging to better equip you with the information and support you need to make a difference in your neighborhoods.

I encourage you to visit or call us at 202-724-5626 to learn more about how you can work with us to help combat social isolation. If you feel you may be suffering from isolation, please reach out to us as well. We can help.

Remember that the winter months are a peak time for prolonged isolation and a sense of loneliness for many, particularly the frail elderly who are unable to leave their homes. Take some extra time out of your day to call your relative, visit a friend, and invite someone over for dinner!

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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