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Social Togetherness Is Vital: How We’re Keeping Seniors Connected

Whether it’s through technology or in-person services, SDSCF is working to provide grants for programs that reduce isolation and help keep seniors connected. Image via Shutterstock.

Update, April 8, 2021: We still have $200,000 left to raise to meet our $1 million goal. You can help us get there! All contributions to the No Senior Alone campaign will fund programs to mitigate social isolation for homebound seniors in San Diego County. Donate today and your gift will be matched! Thank you for your support.

On Thursday, November 19, San Diego Seniors Community Foundation announced the first cycle of grant beneficiaries as part of our No Senior Alone Initiative. 

The grants span across many communities representing older people’s diverse needs and backgrounds. Each organization will use the grant funding to decrease social isolation for older people using tailored approaches in thoughtful and unique ways.

Here’s a rundown of a few grant awardees, their programs, and how they plan to keep older people connected.

Villa Musica
Music on the Move

Villa Musica will bring outdoor concerts and music workshops to seniors

Aaron Bullard, director of community partnerships, said it best, “Human interaction is an essential part of the human condition and without a sense of community, individuals can be at severe risk of mental and emotional health concerns.” As a performer himself, he knows how music can support an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing, providing a means for self-expression, creativity and skill development.

Music on the Move will connect older people and their communities through music with a fully equipped and loaded mobile van carrying instruments, pop-up canopies, sound equipment, and teaching materials that will offer performance and music classes in outdoor spaces.

Somali Family Services
Community Health Worker Outreach Program

Somali Family Service will support isolated seniors in and around City Heights through a community health worker outreach program

San Diego is the second-largest refugee resettlement city in the United States, with an estimated migrant population of more than 45,000. Trauma among refugees is nearly ubiquitous, and significant barriers prevent them from accessing mental health services. Seniors are especially at risk as they grapple with the transition from being traditionally revered community leaders to marginalized individuals in our culture. Social isolation only compounds these difficulties.

To overcome barriers to care and meet the unique linguistic needs of this diverse community, Somali Family Service will use the grant funding to provide services in Somali, Arabic, and Swahili through a community health worker. Najla Ibrahim, director of health and wellness at Somali Family Services shared, “Social togetherness is vital.” This is especially true for our refugee and immigrant populations whose cultural identities are tied to their social connections.

Neighborhood House Senior Center
Virtual Health and Wellness Program

Neighborhood House will be using its grant to improve virtual connection for older people through a new program to distribute tablets and data cards and help seniors learn how to use them. Access to technology will allow older people to participate in virtual activities like fitness, yoga, and art classes, and – coming soon – bingo!

Mona Minton, general manager for programs and clinics shared testimonials from her older clients that speak volumes to the importance of social connection. “I cannot wait to see my best friend.” “I’m so excited!” “Will somebody teach me how to use the tablet?” “Can you please get it to me before Christmas? Because I want to see my grandkids on Zoom!”

San Diego LGBT Center
Community Outreach and Digital Support

“Within the LGBTQ community, the ability to come together has always been a vital part of how we connect,” said Elisa Barnett, senior services program manager. This is especially true for a community that has historically faced systemic discrimination. Older LGBTQ people who fought for the rights that many younger LGBTQ people enjoy today see echoes of the past in the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Elisa, elders at The Center recall the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s when they were isolated and separated from people going into the hospital and lost loved ones to the virus.

With support from SDSCF, The Center is helping members connect to one another virtually and access vital services including healthcare, food distribution, and assistance with technology. By implementing programs that enable connection, LGBTQ seniors don’t have to experience traumatizing isolation like they once did before.

The Challenge Center
Outdoor Health Program

The Challenge Center moved its balance and conditioning class outdoors so that senior clients could exercise in a safe, socially distant way.

Older people with limited mobility and disabilities already experienced challenges even before the pandemic. Appropriate and effective exercise and physical therapy services have been increasingly hard to access. But, when The Challenge Center had to suspend indoor classes, what proved to be the greatest concern expressed by their older participants was being suddenly cut off from their only source of social interaction.

According to Tiffany Piquilloud, executive director and senior physical therapist, senior clients were missing staff at the Challenge Center so much, they were calling every week asking when they could attend classes again. With funding provided by SDSCF, The Challenge Center is moving its balance and conditioning class outdoors where seniors can preserve their strength and mobility in a safe and socially distant way.

A Community Effort

The COVID-19 pandemic has created extended challenges for older people and organizations that care for them. However, SDSCF knows the resilience and strength of our community can overcome senior isolation now and after the pandemic. Together, SDSCF and our grant beneficiaries will ensure older people across the county are supported and connected.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the No Senior Alone initiative. Grant recipients not mentioned but also included are San Marcos Senior Center, Oceanside Senior Center, Peninsula Shepherd Center, and the Foundation for SeniorCare.

Read the Union-Tribune story about our No Senior Alone grants at

Donate to the No Senior Alone campaign to support isolated seniors during COVID-19

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