The Chatham County Council on Aging and the Chatham News + Record have partnered to provide information and outreach to older adults and their families throughout the county with gift newspaper …
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The Chatham County Council on Aging and the Chatham News + Record have partnered to provide information and outreach to older adults and their families throughout the county with gift newspaper subscriptions.
Supported by a grant from the Truist Foundation, the Council on Aging has purchased six-month subscriptions to the News + Record for more than 200 seniors living within Chatham County. Many of those receiving subscriptions got their first copies of the newspaper last week.
The Truist Foundation was formed by BB&T and SunTrust — two banks which have merged under the name Truist — to support nonprofit organizations such as the Council on Aging “to inspire and build better lives and communities.”
“The purchase of these subscriptions is just one more way that we are striving to reach out to older adults having to shelter in place and otherwise restrict their community interaction due to COVID-19,” said Dennis Streets, the executive director of the Council on Aging. “We are especially excited to partner with our local newspaper. Under the leadership of Bill Horner III, the Chatham News + Record is providing exceptional coverage of news, human interest stories, editorials and so much more. Getting the local paper — particularly one of the quality and true community spirit of ours — is certainly something of value to every Chatham resident.”
As part of the partnership, the News + Record will be providing the COA with column space each week to promote the COA’s various programming offerings. Also embedded in each weekly edition of the newspaper — beginning with the Oct. 8-14 edition — will be the answer to a trivia question related to the Council on Aging, which is now in its 46th year of service to seniors and their families. Readers will be encouraged to search the paper for the answer and then call the council to be included in a future drawing for a special prize.
In addressing on the partnership, the CN+R’s Horner said he hoped the seniors who received subscriptions would find value and a shared sense of community, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a privilege for us to partner with the Council on Aging, and we’re thankful Dennis Streets brought this idea to us,” Horner said. “Our mission is to give Chatham County a great newspaper, and we’re confident the reporting we’re doing and information we’re providing will be something these new senior readers can look forward to each week. We want to offer them information about what is happening in their community and something about which they can talk with family, friends and neighbors.”
Horner said through stories and coverage of the COA, it’s become clear to him how valuable the senior centers and agency programming are to Chatham’s growing senior population.
“I’ve made many visits to the centers in Siler City and Pittsboro and we’ve sponsored COA programs, and it’s evident how engaged Dennis and his staff are across Chatham County,” he said. “My mom is a senior citizen living in Chatham, so I’m very thankful for what the Council on Aging is doing for her peers.”
Recently, the Council on Aging decided to extend the closure of its two senior centers to in-facility programming at least through December when it will reassess the status of COVID-19. In the meantime, the council is working to not only provide such essential services as meals, medical transportation, incontinence supplies, assistive equipment and much more — but also to offer a wide array of opportunities for seniors to remain engaged with others.
These opportunities include a robust schedule of exercise and educational programming that is available through such platforms as Zoom and YouTube. Some of this programming will be announced in each weekly edition of the News + Record.
“While this virtual programming has been outstanding and well received, unfortunately many seniors cannot regularly or easily participate because of their lack of access to the internet,” Streets said. “We are excited about presenting this opportunity to those who have limited connection during this time within the larger community and are expressing a sense of isolation.”
In making the decision to continue to close its centers to in-facility programming, the council seriously considered the input of seniors themselves, along with the advice of public health experts. Among the more than 250 seniors responding to a survey the Council conducted in August, many expressed continued anxiety about exposure to COVID-19 but also shared feelings of loneliness.
Research has found that social isolation can lead to increased rates of heart disease, depression and many other medical conditions. A report by columnist Amy Morin in the June 18, 2018, issue of INC. magazine said that “loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.”
Council staff have become increasingly concerned about the effect of social isolation. Wynne Fields, one of the staff members who makes friendly check-in calls, said she’s observed a decline in some of the people on which he calls.
“Some will tell me they aren’t doing well,” she said. “Some I can just hear a change in their voices. Their voices aren’t as strong as they used to be. It’s like no matter what time of day I call, they sound like I have woken them up. The few that I have gotten to see, I can tell they have lost weight. Not that they don’t have food, just have no appetite.”
Before COVID-19 was present in Chatham County, several participants of the Chatham Leadership Academy had chosen to focus on social isolation as their project. It was an issue identified in the 2018-2023 Aging Plan for Chatham County. One of those team members is Ginger Cunningham, the County Extension Director for Chatham County with N.C. Cooperative Extension. Commenting on behalf of the team, Cunningham expressed excitement about the new partnership.
“Through recent work on our Chatham Leadership Academy project, our team has learned of the dire need to address social isolation and loneliness amongst many of our senior community members,” she said. “This partnership between the Council on Aging and the Chatham News + Record not only keeps such individuals informed, but also provides that critical connection and engagement piece that COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated for some of our most vulnerable community members at this time.”
For information about the work of the Chatham County Council on Aging, contact the Eastern Center at 919-542-4512 or the Western Center at 919-742-3975. Also visit the Council’s website at www.chathamcoa.org.
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