Powered by Connection: Front Porch’s Connection programs

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Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM). The 2024 theme is Powered by Connection, which recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being.

Front Porch’s Well Connected program started when its founder recognized people’s fundamental need for connection. Terry Englehart would receive calls for assistance and referral from seniors who would call back again and again, even though their questions had been answered. Then it occurred to her: they weren’t looking for answers; they were looking for connection. So she started a program that allowed people to call in to conference calls for programs and conversations.  

For 20 years, Well Connected has offered support groups, educational programs and social activities by phone and online 365 days a year. It’s only one of a suite of Connection Programs supported by Front Porch’s Community Services division, which also include Social Call and Well Connected Español.

Social Call started as a strictly in-person friendly visitor program in the San Francisco Bay Area. This proved to have limitations for participants and volunteers alike. In addition, Well Connected participants nationwide began to ask if they could have one-on-one connections as well as group meetings. As a result, Social Call shifted to a phone-based program, building on Well Connected’s understanding of the power of virtual relationships. The program was in place and prepared to keep people connected when the world went into lockdown in 2020. 

Now in its 15th year, Social Call provides weekly volunteer visits to older adults across the country. The matching of volunteer to participant is tailored to the individuals involved, a “human-centered solution to social isolation that is inclusive and accessible,” says Casey O’Neill, program director. “We prioritize the development of authentic relationships between volunteers and participants, and we refine the program based on member feedback.”

Celebrating its 5th anniversary, Well Connected Español (WCE) has addressed the needs of Spanish-speaking older adults, filling a significant void in access to programs and activities that promote meaningful connections and reduce loneliness and isolation. Lizette Suarez, the program’s director, says, “Well Connected Español has been instrumental in providing an inclusive space where participants can share their experiences, find mutual support, and feel part of a welcoming community.”

The programs, which are all available nationwide and free to participants, are driven by the importance of connection to personal well-being. “It’s in our DNA to be in the company of others, to be affirmed, seen and heard,” said O’Neill. “And it can contribute positively to all aspects to life. Social connection in itself contributes to physical well-being too, just as a lack of social connection can take its toll.”

Amber Carroll, who has led Well Connected since 2015, believes human connection lies at the heart of why individuals are drawn to these programs. “While the lifelong learning and health benefits are certainly icing on the cake, it’s the profound sense of belonging and meaningful relationships that truly define the essence and vitality of these programs,” said Carroll.

Along with 10 team members, hundreds of volunteers support the programs, providing the personal connections that take place virtually either one-on-one or in groups. One of those volunteers includes Terry Englehart, Well Connected’s founder, who retired but continues to provide individual programs for the program. This session, she and her husband will be sharing their trip to the Hawai’ian island of Moloka’i as part of the Armchair Travel series, and will also facilitate Improv Games and Spelling Bee. On May 7, Well Connected celebrated its 20th anniversary on a group called, Happy Birthday Well Connected!. Englehart was able to attend and shared, “Hearing the feedback from the Well Connected community and being reminded of the impact the program continues to have on their lives is heart-warming.”

The power of connection has truly been life changing both for Connection program participants and volunteers. In evaluation surveys, 71% of participants report developing a meaningful relationship in the programs, 78% report decreased feelings of loneliness, and 88% report feeling more socially connected. As one Well Connected participant and facilitator shared, “Well Connected has been the most positive aspect of my life since I joined in 2010! It provides me with friendship, intellectual stimulation and a very caring community.”

“The value of both participating and volunteering is so rich and so unique,” said Carroll. “People get to connect with others in a variety of ways, individually and in groups, as a learner and a giver and a receiver. It’s pretty powerful.”

Within the Community Services department, there is always room for more connection. You can reach out for more information about any of these programs by calling 877-797-7299 or emailing (appropriately enough) connections@frontporch.net. Or learn more under the Connect tab.