STAFF WRITER DEC. 21, 2023 5:01 PM PT
For many older adults, especially those who live alone or don’t have nearby family members, the holiday season can be especially lonely.
While social isolation in seniors can arise anytime throughout the year, a 2017 survey from AARP found that 31 percent of older adults felt lonely during the winter holiday season, and 41 percent worried about feelings of loneliness in a friend or family member.
One San Diego non-profit has aimed to decrease those feelings of social isolation by awarding nearly $98,617 in grants to 25 local senior centers, veterans halls and other organizations in the region to help fund the cost of holiday celebrations for older adults.
Kristoffer Kelly, San Diego Seniors Community Foundation director of development and partnerships, said that in San Diego, there are an estimated 130,000 senior orphans, or older adults that don’t have partners, children or other close family members nearby.
For the past four years, the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation has spread holiday cheer to thousands of older adults throughout the region with its winter holiday grants.
“We feel that in empowering the senior centers — and also giving them opportunities to throw together holiday parties where they’re normally underfunded, understaffed — then that will increase more folks to get to the senior center and really understand what the senior center can do for them in their own community,” Kelly said.
While in years past the program has typically funded a single event at each facility, this year the nonprofit encouraged the facilities applying for the grants to plan a series of events so community members could enjoy activities throughout the month.
Chief Programs and Community Engagement Officer Joe Gavin said promoting a schedule of events during the holidays might encourage return visitors.
“We hope that can springboard people into recognition of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know the center did this or had this class or had this program as well,’ so it could serve as a portal to services throughout the year,” Gavin said.
Jennifer Overman, City of San Marcos Recreation Supervisor of Senior Services, said scheduling a series of events meant starting December by encouraging seniors to help place decorations on its 12-foot Christmas tree as they arrived at the San Marcos Senior Activity Center.
There was also a day where the center hosted a hot cocoa bar with a viewing of the 1938 film “A Christmas Carol” starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, and a day of cookie decorating that included tins to pack the cookies in so participants could bring them home after.
“With the hot chocolate bar, some of them said, ‘I haven’t had hot cocoa with whipped cream in many years,’ ” Overman said. “It’s just kind of offering those fun activities so they can be with a group of their peers and just doing something enjoyable.”
The month of holiday celebrations at the San Marcos Senior Activity Center culminated Thursday with a holiday gala complete with a live band, dancing, lunch with appetizers and bundt cakes for dessert.
Donna Read, 69, started visiting the San Marcos center to make friends her age after she left Spokane, Wash., to move in with her son and his family in San Marcos. While taking a break from dancing, she said participating in events at the center has helped her to grow a new community.
“They always have great entertainment, and they always have great things happening here. It gets people together,” Read said. “If you’re a senior citizen, take a chance to go to your local senior center, get a chance to meet new people, make new friends.”
The San Diego Seniors Community Foundation currently has a donation drive to continue its support to local senior centers, through which contributions will be matched up to $75,000 grant by the Sahm Family Foundation. For more information, visit sdscf.org.