Seniors Serving Seniors: Bridging the digital divide

July 29, 2023 at 1:18 p.m.
Researching CIRC’s site (photo by Rachael Green)
Researching CIRC’s site (photo by Rachael Green) Gwen Campbell, RSVP


Email, Facetime, telehealth, online shopping, bill paying … digital devices put communications and services at our fingertips, but only if you have access and know-how, which many seniors lack.

CIRC, a nonprofit organization, provides affordable housing and support services to 40 properties throughout the Puget Sound region and manages and operates 15 of them. Bridging the digital divide is CIRC’s latest initiative to give residents tools for success. 

A new partnership between Solid Ground’s RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) and CIRC aims to bridge the digital divide with RSVP’s new Digital Navigators volunteers.

Residents will receive in-person training and coaching from volunteers to use their devices. There’s a big need for technology support now that more activities are moving online, which increases accessibility for older adults as well as those with mobility and transportation issues.

The benefits of the new program: 

  • Access to telehealth connects residents with primary care providers and critical care.
  • Keeping in touch via quick messages, leisurely phone calls, or video chats with family and friends eases loneliness and isolation.
  • Playing online puzzles and games exercises cognition and memory muscles.
  • Sharing hobbies and interests in community groups facilitates social connections.
  • Online shopping removes transportation and mobility issues.
  • Medication management apps, audiobooks, and exercise apps help older adults enjoy a high quality of life.

CIRC plans to start the Digital Navigators program at three of its residences located in Auburn, south Seattle, and Kirkland.

In addition to the new Digital Navigator program, CIRC partners with service providers and cultural and community groups to build neighborhood networks within two miles of each property. Networks are individualized to meet the needs of each living community.

CIRC resident services is made up of program managers and resident service coordinators who are community “concierges,” assisting residents with daily living challenges. They’re part of a valuable information and referral hub for financial assistance, physical and behavioral health care, food insecurity and nutritional challenges, transportation, and educational activities.  Creating safe and stable home environments, facilitating conflict resolution, and helping with paperwork for residential and government-supported services are some of their hands-on activities. CIRC’s community health advocates focus on supporting residents’ healthcare and wellness needs. They assist residents to communicate with their healthcare providers, understand treatment options, and make their own decisions. Partnerships with nursing and social work students address residents’ physical and emotional needs. Fitness classes keep participants active, and emergency preparedness training supports safe communities.

CIRC uses a four pillars approach to this work:

1) Real Homes that Make a Real Difference

2) Empowering Choice

3) Community, Collaboration, and Support

4) Purpose, Not Profit

Food pantries are an example of how resident services use the “four pillars approach” to address the food insecurity and nutritional challenges of seniors living on low or fixed incomes. They connect residents with a community partner, such as a local food bank or charitable organization, to supply the food.

Building trust and community through collaboration, resident volunteers receive the equipment, tools, and training to run their own food banks and make operational decisions to meet their community’s needs.

Residents value the food banks for both the actual food and peace of mind. For some residents, the food they receive through CIRC makes up their entire weekly food budget. In 2022, these food banks served over 20,000 meals!

Despite any physical frailties, most residents feel they still have something to offer: They want to volunteer and give back to their community, they want to leverage their strengths to make their world a better place, and they all want to be treated with dignity.

Residents serving residents meet these needs.

Community members at these locations have expressed interest in both volunteering and receiving assistance, and they look forward to working with and learning from other seniors – people with similar life experiences who understand their needs well.

This article is courtesy of RSVP: Retired & Senior Volunteer Program - Solid Ground

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