Every week for the past two years, a group of a dozen senior citizens has gathered at Weiss. They sip coffee and chat—initially about their weeks, but as the hour-long meetings progress, they delve into deeper issues. They discuss their dreams, fears, and the ups and downs of getting older.
The group initially formed for seniors coping with chronic illness, but it has evolved into a support group for all seniors—chronically ill or not. “We got to know each other, and everyone had revealed so many personal, private, secret things that we became close friends,” said Susan*, one of the members of the current “Senior Care Support Group.”
Two interns, students from the social work master’s program at Loyola University in Chicago, run the meetings. “It’s important because for a lot of older adults, their social circles begin to narrow as they age. This gives them a chance to connect anew with people,” said Caitrin Connolly, one of the interns.
Her colleague Sha’rika Wilson agreed. “It gives them something to look forward to, something to do, and people to talk to.”
They begin each weekly meeting by asking everyone to share one good thing and one challenging thing about their week. Often, tips come out of these discussions. For example, one week, a group member might share that he had a difficult time finding fresh vegetables within his budget, but another group member will know which grocery stores have the best deals.
After everyone shares, they discuss one major question, different each week, such as: What is your dream or fantasy vacation? What is your therapy—self-soothing/relaxation techniques?
“We always take home some information that’s useful to us. Whether it’s coping, buying something or going to a museum that’s free—little tips that make your life easier,” Susan said.
The seniors appreciate being able to help each other and accept advice in return. Many have built solid friendships within the group, and go to eat or to museums together outside of the meetings.
“A lot of people have really blossomed,” said Connolly. “Almost everyone in the group is single, divorced or widowed. It’s people who are really trying to branch out.”
Group member Betty* has been part of the group for two years and said she comes back every week for the sense of camaraderie. “It’s an experience where you learn you’re not all alone,” she said.
New members are welcome to join the group, which meets every Friday at 11 a.m. Contact the WISE Senior Center for more information, at (773) 564-5666.
*Not her real name. Members in the support group requested anonymity because of the personal information discussed in the meetings.