When the pandemic hit, the Agency on Aging Area 4 (AAA4) needed to find a creative way to connect with the older adults in their region. The Agency on Aging Area 4 (AAA4) serves over 500,000 older adults age 60+ in seven counties including Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba.
Prior to COVID the organization didn’t offer classes to promote health and nutrition virtually. In fact, the pandemic pushed the staff of AAA4 to utilize more digital tools than ever before. They started to create e-newsletters, expanded their use of Facebook, learned Zoom, and discovered digital tools to reach older adults in their area.
This step into the digital world also highlighted the digital divide. Nancy Vasquez, the Direct Services Administrator of AAA4 said, “Even still today there is a huge challenge for some older adults to use technology. And there are still older adults who aren’t interested in learning it. But, the toughest challenge is reaching those older adults who aren’t connected digitally, but might be interested in learning, if they knew the benefits.”
One of the new digital programs that AAA4 launched during the pandemic was senior-specific classes on GetSetUp. GetSetUp's peer-to-peer classes offered live interactive opportunities to socialize. They cover topics like learning technology, staying healthy, fitness, and enrichment classes.
“Working with GetSetUp has been really positive. The relationship has been great. Since the program was new we had several meetings to get us started. The team was really great at helping us figure out how to use their services and identifying what we would need," said Nancy.
The GetSetUp team worked directly with Nancy and her team to help support them in any way they needed to get started. Ongoing partnership communications also help to provide resources for social media and newsletters. Plus as the partnership grows the team continues to strengthen the relationship through offers like marketing toolkits on current programming, learner interviews, or being able to offer customized classes as needed.
“The GetSetUp team has been great and everyone is so darn nice,” said Nancy.
Navigating funding for virtual classes
Partners who are available to help and support the relationship make partnerships flourish. That way funding can provide the most equity and opportunities for the most people.
“For us, the funding is always the biggest challenge. How will we pay for it? How will payments work and can we afford that? We don’t provide a lot of direct services,” said Nancy.
Most non-profits like AAA4 get their funding from government federal funding, like the Federal Older Americans Act Funding. Considering the state of emergency that many older Americans faced during COVID isolation periods, the funding requirements for this money became less restrictive.
“During COVID and the state of emergency we were allowed to use the health promotion Title - III-D act funding for virtual programming. Normally we have to use that for evidence-based in-person programming, which we only had initially offered as in-person classes but, we were given some leeway to add virtual classes.”
This leeway opened the space for many more options in virtual programming to assure that health, wellness, fitness, and socialization reached older adults.
“With COVID, it wound up being a really good time to work with the GetSetUp team. We struggled to make connections with older adults who were isolated in their homes with COVID. This was a good chance to reach those that had the tech,” said Nancy. “This allowed us to reach older adults and make sure we had contact. For many, GetSetUp was an opportunity for them to be less depressed and isolated.”
Tech support for partners and learners alike
Nancy highlighted that there are still a lot of people who don't have the technology to access classes. Nevertheless, she has found that there are a lot who do have tech and want virtual connections.
One thing she noticed was that a lot of online educators were offering a class to teach people the technology, prior to the class since tech questions ended up taking up a lot of initial class time.
“We try to ask ahead of time if people will need assistance. But many don’t acknowledge or know they will need it until right before the class. This can cause delays and some frustration,” said Claire Klingler, the Health Promotion Coordinator, who is in charge of managing GetSetUp and many other programs.
Claire often leads many of the other virtual events being hosted by AAA4.
“The main thing GetSetUp offers that we struggle to offer is the technical assistance portion,” said Claire. “I'm the tech person and it can be difficult. Sometimes someone is on a phone trying to join through Zoom and can’t connect their camera. It can be difficult providing assistance virtually and it’s frustrating for the person trying to participate. GetSetUp has the people that are specialized in this.”
Having a tech support team means that the people leading the classes can focus on class content instead of trying to help different learners access their microphones and camera for the start of the class. Plus with the GetSetUp Lounge participants can enjoy classes through the browser without having to download an app or update software.
Blending diverse programs helps to bridge the digital divide
The Agency on Aging\Area 4 doesn’t have money for advertising. So, they work hard to reach out to residents through various products and services they feel will appeal to the older adults in their area. One of the programs they launched during the pandemic was the iPad program. In this program, 252 iPads will be distributed to eligible older adults.
“When we announced the program we had lots of people who wanted the iPads. We are just now getting ready to see if the participants are using the iPads. We want to learn if they are using them and if so how they are using them. There’s a lot of important information to gather here to make sure we can make this impactful since we have more devices on the way,” said Nancy.
The program is looking at ways to assure that the iPads are distributed to those who will use them. AAA4 wants to make sure enough education and instruction are being provided too. So that those receiving iPads know the next steps, to utilize them best. This includes the opportunity to learn new digital skills and practice utilizing them through GetSetUp classes.
“We plan to keep using GetSetUp as long as we still have the approval to use the funding that way. When that declaration ends we will have to find a new funding source. Though post-COVID things may change. We have learned so much with the pandemic and seen how beneficial programs like GetSetUp are. If we can show the success of the program, we can find other sources of funding.”
Normally Nancy and her team work to show program benefits through surveys, feedback, and speaking with participants. These tools also help to connect these participants to other Older Americans' Act services, like Meals on Wheels, legal services, and more.
“The people who found out about our virtual programming were mostly already using the internet. From there it traveled quickly via word of mouth. For those who aren’t connected digitally already, we are still struggling to learn how to best reach them.” said Nancy.
One of the things she noticed was that the people reaching out to get iPads often had partial vision impairment. The team is looking to see how they can provide services that meet the needs of this population as well.
“Adjusting to digital resources and virtual services has been a steep learning curve. I feel we are about halfway up the curve now. Now we are really looking to see what we have learned to apply it best,” said Nancy. “What we have found in follow-up is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink it. We don’t know, yet, if participants are looking for the services we are offering. We don’t know if they are using iPads and classes to empower their daily lives. All we know so far before these surveys go out is that they aren’t calling us to ask questions.”
Partnerships like this one are benefiting the local community through digital support and community networking, regardless of people’s ability to get out into society.