At the beginning of 2013, AARP Foundation launched a pilot program in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood of Washington, DC, to try to develop an innovative, community-based solution to isolation. Few research-validated best practices for combating isolation exist, so AARP Foundation decided to try a new approach under a model known as an Engaged Living Association. After extensive research, the Foundation adapted the Older People’s Association program of HelpAge International, an organization that, according to its own website, “helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination, and overcome poverty.”
Rather than targeting those who are isolated and trying to “fix their problem,” the goal of the program was to build and strengthen the community more broadly in order to prevent isolation from gaining a foothold. So, instead of bringing an existing program in and trying to engage residents by, in effect, imposing it on them, the Engaged Living Association approach reached out to those in the community and did more listening than lecturing. With support from the Foundation and professional facilitators, a steering committee was formed of some 20 senior residents from the dozen or so housing clusters that make up Fort Lincoln. That committee began to talk about what isolation meant to them, what they cared most deeply about, and how they thought they could best engage isolated seniors in their own community. In the process, the model was building a team of active leaders who would have a strong sense of purpose that would keep the momentum going.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign that they had taken ownership of the whole concept was that the steering committee members decided on their own name for the effort: Project S.I.N.G., for Seniors in Isolation Needing Guidance. According to their own mission statement, “Project S.I.N.G. is a community endeavor of the Fort Lincoln area that serves as the guiding force to inspire and motivate seniors into an active, stimulating, continuous lifestyle.”
The video above details how the project got going and movingly demonstrates that the best people to find solutions for isolation are those directly affected by it.