Virtual Senior Academy featured in Statewide Survey Report, Launching New Intergenerational Programming with City of Pittsburgh

A young participant joins the new GRAN sessions on the Virtual Senior Academy.

When Kylea Covaleski took over managing the Virtual Senior Academy in 2019, she could never have imagined a situation with the entire community isolated in their homes.

"The Virtual Senior Academy was created to connect seniors across Pittsburgh and reduce social isolation," said Kylea Covaleski, program assistant at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. "But who could have imagined our current situation when it was founded? Now more than ever we need social connection, and I've been amazed at how the Virtual Senior Academy makes it possible during this difficult time of social distancing."

The Academy offers free daily virtual classes on everything from line dancing to astronomy to medication management. All the classes are live in order to foster community and conversation with the participants. New classes are being added every week, with new community partners joining to allow members on lockdown to still participate in their programs – and attract new participants. Since the Allegheny County entered quarantine, class sizes have doubled, and the Academy consistently adds new users every day.

On April 30, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (DOA) and the Pennsylvania Council on Aging (PCoA) released findings of a statewide survey to assess the needs of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 3,700+ responses, over 20 percent of seniors are interested in virtual connections, including the Virtual Senior Academy which was called out as a potential program to reduce isolation across the commonwealth.

As Virtual Senior Academy works with the DOA and PCoA to further ramp up services and address critical needs for connection and engagement, new classes are being added focused primarily on socializing.

"Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh typically holds #CoffeeConnectPGH events at coffee shops, but during COVID-19, we've offered them on Virtual Senior Academy. The platform has allowed people of all ages to connect in real-time, share about their day and, most importantly, find community," said Laura Poskin, director of United for Seniors & Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh.

In total, thirteen new organizations have joined the Virtual Senior Academy in the past month, creating a whole host of new classes for participants. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation has also translated its GRAN Intergenerational Reading program into a class on the Virtual Senior Academy while schools are shutdown. This has allowed for the Academy's first youth participants and created new opportunities for participating seniors, including reading with and mentoring young folks. The team is working with Councilperson Erika Strassburger and the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Parks and Recreation to connect to more than twenty youth serving organizations to launch new intergenerational programming this month.

"Facilitating classes on the Virtual Senior Academy is the highlight of my day. I am able to meet people I otherwise wouldn't come across in daily life and that is the magic of the live online classes," said Kylea Covaleski. "The Virtual Senior Academy can connect people across Pittsburgh and beyond. With many organizations turning to virtual programming during this time, I have been able to train these organizations to provide classes on the Virtual Senior Academy and expand the learning opportunities and services available to participants while providing the organizations a needed platform."

Read the TribLIVE's coverage of the Virtual Senior Academy published on May 3: 'Virtual Senior Academy' expands to connect more older adults during pandemic

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