At Home Chesapeake is a Village program in Anne Arundel County (athomechesapeake.org) that has been existence for seven years. Over this time together, the members determined that they like a high participatory, peer-to-peer membership approach in their village. By sharing stories and backgrounds as well as “bumps in the road” (illness, caregiving, etc.), close friendships have developed. These relationships help build resilience and advocacy support while living and aging well in our homes and community.
Not only do most of us recognize that close, supportive, connections make our lives feel better, but research has confirmed this for many years, and gerontologists and other social scientists and program designers have worked to make sure we prevent social isolation as our vulnerability increases. When we choose to age in our homes and our neighborhoods our Village programs need to be creative at fostering opportunities to meet each other and be together.
At the recent Village to Village Conference in Washington D.C. new research demonstrating health benefits for Village program membership reported that social engagement, access to services, health and well-being, and self-efficacy have a high successful relation to healthy aging. (Andrew Scharlach, PhD, Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services UC Berkeley). Social engagement matters to our well-being. During this gathering of people who have established Village Programs around the country we also held a group of those throughout Maryland. Representatives attended from many Maryland Villages-from Baltimore, Kent County, Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George and Montgomery Counties.
In our program we have always incorporated strong elements that foster social connection and the importance of reciprocal relationships. I often call this the “social glue” that is the heart of our community. Sometimes the size of a gathering matters, or the venue offered because we need to provide opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard. Large meetings do not always allow for truly getting to know each other.
The following blog entry written by a member of At Home Chesapeake, demonstrates the “social health” including creating and maintaining relationships that is important for healthy aging across the lifespan. In our Village we are always looking for creative ways to support our social gatherings to foster connections and deepen relationships.
Sharing Culture, Cooking, Dinner and More –by Diane Evans, member of At Home Chesapeake
At Home Chesapeake recently hosted a Bengali cooking class at a member’s home. It proved to be far more than a cooking class. To give a little background, three recipes were sent to participating members via email. Our “instructor,” another member, assembled the various ingredients ahead of time. Oh, my, such exotic spices. Where would you buy them if you even wanted to try a recipe on our own? We needn’t have worried. Not only were we taught about each spice, but given several local places to purchase them. The vegetables and fish could be bought almost anywhere.
As we gathered, we learned the benefits of Bengali cooking for improved health. We learned that the styles of cooking in the various regions of India differ, each having their own distinct flavors and methods of preparation. We learned how to properly chop, grate, steam and serve our new delicacies as we joined in to prepare the fish, vegetables and the dal.
Preparing the food and learning about it was the reason we got together. But the gathering was also an opportunity for expanding and enhancing the “social glue” of our community connections. We learned far more about the “spices of life” by breaking bread together, and through sharing stories about ourselves and letting others know of our heritage as we sat around the dining room table. The shared giggles were almost like those peppermint drops used to finish off a good meal and settle our tummies. Didn’t families do this not so long ago? Being together and celebrating a good meal was one of the joys of life. It still should be.
Food was the reason we got together, but the camaraderie was far more sustaining. We laughed and devoured not only the food but the support we gleaned from one another. As we cleared the table, we all decided more of us from At Home Chesapeake should come to the next cooking demo. Working together for a common goal brings us together, food sustains our bodies, but we need each other to nourish our souls.