Older woman using computer
June 14, 2021

Bringing Senior Centers to Older Adults

Bringing Senior Centers to Older Adults



Pilot Program Offers a Robust Set of Online Classes to Engage Homebound and Older Adults, Combat Social Isolation, and Improve Connectivity to Others

NYSOFA makes VSC Online Community platform available to Thousands of Older Adults in Pilot Counties

Albany, NY—The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) today announced a partnership with the Association on Aging in New York and Selfhelp Community Services to bring Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center (VSC) into the homes of older New Yorkers to improve connectivity, combat social isolation, improve health and wellness. Launching initially with 20 pilot counties, the VSC will be available as a tool to help organizations bring their communities online for more than 700 potential AAA’s

Loneliness and isolation among older adults was a public health problem prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic made that worse as most individuals stayed home to stop the spread and stay safe. This resulted in a significant loss of community connectedness. Individuals who are isolated and lonely: 

Have a 59% higher risk of physical and mental health decline 

Have a 64% higher risk of dementia

The effects of isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes/day.

The VSC is a ten-year-old service offering programming that is older-adult friendly and may be accessed 365 days a year. The VSC is a one-stop platform that supports hosting facilitator-led classes, one-on-one video calls for social or telehealth visits, curated links to internet and games, recorded content and materials, and direct connection to technological assistance – all in one place.  It is a community building tool for organizations rather than just a collection of online classes. 

Greg Olsen, Director of the New York State Office for the Aging, said “In an effort to remain safe and slow the spread of the virus, many older New Yorkers gave up their connections to friends, family and community. Technological solutions to improve connectivity and combat isolation and loneliness are critical tools in the tool box and are here to stay. We are thrilled to partner with AANYS and Selfhelp to bring the virtual senior center into the homes of older adults to improve their connectivity, friendships and promote lifelong learning that will benefit them in many ways”. 

Becky Preve, Executive Director of the Association on Aging in NY, said “The Association on Aging in New York is delighted to partner with NYSOFA and Self Help to bring expansive virtual programs to older residents and their families. This partnership allows older New Yorkers access to socialization and education from the comfort of their homes and communities. NYS continues to be a pioneer in bringing innovative services to enrich the aging experience, and this is an additional partnership to enhance our outreach.” 

Stuart C. Kaplan, CEO, Selfhelp Community Services, said “We are now at a moment of opportunity to address social isolation among older adults. We’ve all learned to embrace technology as a tool to stay connected with one another through the pandemic. We are pleased to be offering our Virtual Senior Center to community organizations in partnership with the State Office for the Aging and the Association on Aging in New York to enhance their virtual programming through the pandemic and beyond”, added 

Technology solutions have grown dramatically over the past year, and Selfhelp's VSC will be part of the new normal. The VSC uses internet-connected computers and tablets to provide face-to-face, real-time interaction for isolated older adults and engaging them in cultural events and other online activities that create a vibrant social community.

As a vital source of face-to-face social interaction, the VSC enables homebound seniors to participate virtually in intriguing live classes, tour world-famous locations, interact with peers, engage in wellness activities, and, most importantly, expand their social network. The VSC connects older adults to an online forum to stay involved, learn, and offers new ways to reach people outside the traditional bricks and mortar approach.

By joining the Selfhelp VSC, organizations can quickly leverage the rich content and experience developed over ten years while also having the opportunity of bringing their local programming to the online community. 

Classes - VSC activities take place daily, year-round. Participants can log into the VSC whenever they choose, review the calendar of activities, and join whatever interests them. Each day, the program makes available a full schedule of highly interactive online classes, facilitated by trained volunteers, available in English, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Korean, and includes a substantial health curriculum. 

Instructors - The VSC currently has several hundred facilitators living in ten states and five countries (US, Trinidad, Australia, Brazil, and Israel). Eighty-nine facilitators live in the NYC area. Their backgrounds are expansive. There are doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, educators, computer technicians, musicians, authors, nutritionists, physical trainers, social workers, teaching artists, professional organizers, firefighters, scientists, and spiritual leaders.

Partnerships - The VSC has established partnerships with museums, hospitals, and universities, all of which contribute content. Live virtual museum tours are a favorite of users, as are holiday celebrations and other special events. 

Independent evaluation found that Selfhelp's VSC reduced loneliness by 80%, increase connectedness by 60%, and increase self-reported health status (well-being) by 51%.

97% of participants said the VSC improved the quality of their life. Participants have reported they appreciate how attending live and online classes reduce their social isolation and loneliness and increase their social network.

About the New York State Office for the Aging and Health Across All Policies/Age-Friendly New York 

The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) continuously works to help the state’s 4.3 million older adults be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented, and cost-effective policies, programs, and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them.

New York is nationally recognized for being the first age-friendly state in the nation. Using the state’s Prevention Agenda as the overarching framework, in 2017, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched a Health Across All Policies approach, where public and private partners work together to positively impact population health by marrying health care, preventive health, and community design, in concert with addressing social determinants of health, to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, young and old.

Stay connected—download the NYSOFA mobile app for iOS or Android; visit the NYSOFA Facebook page; follow @NYSAGING on Twitter and NYSAging on Instagram; or visit aging.ny.gov.

About the Association on Aging in New York 

The mission of the Association on Aging is to support and enhance the capacity of New York's local area agencies on aging and to work in collaboration with the aging network to promote independence, preserve dignity, and advocate on the behalf of aging New Yorkers and their families. www.agingny.org

About Virtual Senior Center 

The Virtual Senior Center (VSC) was launched more than a decade ago, trailblazing the way for homebound adults to combat isolation and loneliness through live online learning. The VSC offers a secure, senior-friendly platform that provides access to individuals and communities to engage in live, interactive classes, live chats, recorded content, curated links and games, and more. VSC is the brainchild of Selfhelp Community Services. For more information, please visit vscm.selfhelp.net.   

About Selfhelp 

Selfhelp Community Services is a non-profit serving 20,000 older and vulnerable adults each year through home health care, affordable housing, and skilled social services, while remaining the largest provider of services to Holocaust survivors in North America. The organization offers a complete network of home care and community-based services with the overarching goal of helping seniors live with dignity and independence and avoid institutionalization. For more information, visit www.selfhelp.net.  

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NYSOFA Press Office
New York State Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12233