Isolated seniors are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, depression, dementia and other complications than their peers who are surrounded by a loving, caring network of family, neighbors and friends. This is a problem Collier Senior Resources is helping to ameliorate at the Golden Gate Senior Center through a $50,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation of Collier County.
The new grant-funded program at Golden Gate Senior Center targets women 60 and over with no social support in the Naples area. They are invited each week into a circle of friends—called Friends Connection—in a creative and relaxed environment to talk about topics and issues central to everyone’s life, build meaningful relationships, and receive counseling.
The grant funds the Friends Connection coordinator and activity materials. Participants discuss topics such as mental health, past experiences and memories, and how close relationships can lead to a better quality of life. Since launching the program in October, 27 women have enrolled, with a goal of 80 joining, said senior center director Tatiana Fortune. “I think we’ll most likely supersede that—that’s the goal,” she said.
Seniors are a large and vital portion of the local population. Residents aged 65 and older make up 32 percent of Collier’s population, a percentage that will rise to 46 percent by 2050. These rates are outpacing Florida and the nation. At the same time, there are twice as many women in Collier County living alone than men.
As the need to serve the aging sector became crystal-clear, Collier Senior Resources converted a former library in the Golden Gate community into the cheery center, which opened in 2014. The center has 1,400 members, Fortune said, up from 800 two years ago.
The center partners with many organizations and agencies to provide hot lunches, classes, activities and programs, a food pantry, and employment and healthcare benefit assistance and resources. Many members enjoy quilting, sharpening their English skills, strengthening their minds and bodies with tai chi and yoga, or kicking back with bingo and dominoes.
Others may come—alone—for a warm meal.
In addition to tapping into reticent visitors, Fortune said outreach efforts are underway to spread the word about Friends Connection at area churches, through referrals, and elsewhere. The women who have already joined have begun to brighten and show excitement as they open up and make friends, Fortune said. “We are very grateful for the support of the Women’s Foundation and Community Foundation. We definitely could not do this meaningful work without their support. It goes a long way toward increasing our impact,” Fortune said. “We’re talking about a very vulnerable population here.”