We are at an inflection point in our society. In 2030, one out of five people will be over age 65. Just as school systems provide a network for resources, services, and enrichment for children, so a parallel network of resources, services, and enrichment must be available at the local level to support the older generation.
Although much of suburban Essex County is considered affluent, the future for our older residents is fraught with financial challenges. Based upon recent livability studies, 35% of the senior households in Montclair cannot afford housing, transportation, food, or health care on a regular basis. A local safety net to support all of the people who will age in place is needed.
In the 21st century, and certainly with COVID as backdrop, those without access to the internet are now, and will be increasingly, barred from critical services and this essential social contract.
Our mission is to uplift technologically challenged older residents to empower them to use virtual resources proactively, without fear of cyber exploitation. An accessible, resilient and reliable virtual infrastructure will support them and their caregivers.
Our goal is to build that 21st century communication network to provide:
- ongoing technical support
- 24/7 crisis prevention
- financial counseling
- caregiver counseling
- feedback roundtables for civic inclusion
- transportation choices
- opportunities for volunteerism
- formal & informal social networks
How do we get there
Digital competency and connectivity are paramount to our mission because seniors who are “unreachable” are at risk in this society. Our focus in 2022 is on closing this access and competence gap. Foundational to Gateway’s mission is the new SmartSeniors/SmartTECH© (SS/ST) project, launching this fall to empower seniors to utilize the resources available to them by teaching them how to navigate in the virtual world.
The program is built around our GTEAM of volunteer peer coaches who have been trained in human-centered design. Volunteers will establish relationships with older residents who are reluctant or untutored users of technology and help them adopt the technology skills they need. Through meetings between clients, peer coaches and technology experts, we will design individual Internet Connectivity Plans to assess basic skills and needs. The teams will utilize our strategically developed library of tutorials and other materials for training.
In 2023/24, we intend to expand SS/ST by adding a TeleHealth Connectivity pilot project. One member of our Board, a social worker, and one member of our Advisory team, a technology expert, have teamed up to conduct research on how Telehealth services is used among older citizens, its broad impact on health, and the challenges it presents to older citizens. Their research results will drive development of a model for a Gateway to TeleHealth Connectivity plan.
How we have helped
Gateway initiated a Gateway to Vaccination campaign in 2021 targeting nearly 800 senior citizens believed to lack internet access. Utilizing postal mail, phone interaction and digital work-arounds, Gateway secured vaccinations for more than 100 people.
Working directly with the County Administrator’s office, we developed a stop-gap, senior-friendly system to bypass the complex online process that challenged older citizens. We built our own backend database to house required data and digitally transferred that information to the County office on a daily basis. The County office, in turn, sent unique client codes and appointment details back to our Gateway coordinator. Our peer volunteers – “buddies”- then reached back to our clients and coordinated the details including transportation options when needed.
All of our outreach endeavors are designed to be inclusive. We do not employ the concept of membership. Access to the digital environment is free and out there 24 hours by 7 days a week. We are partnering with the NAACP Health Committee, Aging in Montclair (AIM), Montclair Women’s Club, The Do Drop In, Toni’s Kitchen, the Montclair Public Library, Senior Bus Roundtable, Montclair Citizens for Rent Control (TOOM), Lifelong Montclair, and the Montclair Senior Housing Action Group (M SHAG) project to help us reach out to the community.
Method for change
Gateway is a laboratory for positive change among those who have reached retirement age and plan to age in place in our community.
- identify key problems/issues facing our target populations
- build and sustain relationships with individual community members through technological and non-technological methods to combat ageism and isolation, and to build community capital
- conduct applied research to best understand challenges and barriers
- develop and test prototype solutions in target homes, with cooperating local
institutions and the community in general
- benchmark progress and identify benefits which have the potential to overcome those barrier problems
- leverage best practices, materials and strategies from vetted global resources
Making our voices heard
It’s important for folks over the age of 55 to communicate to our neighbors that we are still vital, still capable of organizing and shaping our futures, and have a wealth of experience to share. The efforts Gateway has engaged in thus far have been successful at overcoming local ageism by giving voice to our concerns, demonstrating our problem-solving abilities and tapping into our passion for meaningful work.
Ageism insinuates itself into the pores of our society. To quote Isabel Wilkerson in her book CASTE, “A caste system persists in part because we, each and every one of us, allow it to exist – in large and small ways, in our everyday actions, in how we elevate or demean, embrace or exclude, on the basis of the meaning attached to people’s physical traits. If enough people buy into the lie of natural hierarchy, then it becomes the truth or is assumed to be.” Wilkerson asserts that tragically, age is the final disfavored caste in our society.
Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place is a conscious clarion call for diversity, equity and inclusion for seniors