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Age Friendly Seattle Offers Virtual Events During COVID-19

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Many people are familiar with Age Friendly Seattle’s monthly coffee hours, which date back to January 2018. These events have an even longer history under a different name. Now known as Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee Hours, each one brings older people and local decisionmakers together to discuss current issues. Each hour-long event focuses on a specific department or topic.

The coffee hour program straddles three of The 8 Domains of Livability, the framework around which Seattle and other members of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities typically plan improvements—civic participation, social participation, and communication and information. Depending upon the topic and presenter, the events touch other domains as well.

Putting more older people in touch with local decisionmakers

In 2019, Age Friendly Seattle coordinator Lenny Orlov expanded the coffee hour events to include community elders with limited English. Simultaneous translation was provided at six of the 12 coffee hours presented in 2019 for guests who spoke Amharic, Khmer, Russian, or Vietnamese (varying by event, depending on audience). Professional translators used simultaneous translation equipment provided by Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Also last year, Orlov began video-recording the events—sometimes live-streaming on Facebook and usually posting on the Aging and Disability Services (aka Aging King County) YouTube channel. He also created video teasers (brief recorded interviews) for use on social media in the days leading up to each event. With this winning combination, total attendance increased 67 percent and average attendance increased almost 86 percent over 2018.

In late 2019 and early 2020, Orlov was developing a plan to video-record and livestream the events to senior centers and community centers, including organizations serving immigrants and refugees that could interpret the events for non-English speaking elders. He tested numerous platforms, including Facebook Live, Skype, and YouTube, looking for just the right combination of video quality, closed captioning (for people who are hard of hearing), and call-in capability (for those without computers). Then, COVID-19 hit.

Helping elders connect online during COVID-19

Civic coffee hour clip artThe groundwork Orlov laid to produce both live and virtual events made it possible to launch the new Age Friendly Seattle Virtual Civic Coffee Hour series in April. Using Microsoft Teams Live Events, each event is broadcast live (like a webinar) with auto-captioning—and not just in English! Teams currently offers auto-captioning in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Each event has a call-in number, too, although only in English.

Each Virtual Civic Coffee Hour recording is posted on YouTube for further viewing. Recent recordings include conversations with Anne Shields, Public Health-Seattle & King County (April) and with Stephanie Lucash, Seattle Human Resources Department (May).

For current information about upcoming Age Friendly Seattle virtual Civic Coffee Hours, click here.

Given the success of the new Virtual Civic Coffee Hour Series and interest expressed in the community for more opportunities to connect online—particularly during COVID-19—Orlov recognized another opportunity. If one Thursday each month was good and people were confined to home, then every Thursday morning should work, too. With that, a second series of virtual events was launched!

Close to Home: Stories of Health, Tech and Resilience

Close to Home graphicClose to Home is a new virtual series that features multiple presenters with information and resources for older people, caregivers, and their families. Close to Home presentations are scheduled on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. on the weeks when there is no coffee hour—which means Age Friendly Seattle now hosts a virtual presentation of one sort or another every week. Close to Home programs are more casual than Civic Coffee Hours, featuring multiple presenters. They run 45–60 minutes in length.

Recent Close to Home presentations that can be viewed online include

There’s something for everyone! Tune in every Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. For current program information and codes, click here.


Contributor Irene Stewart manages communications for Aging and Disability Services, Seattle Human Services Department.

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