As people age, their social circle often shrinks due to retirement, relocation and friends passing away. Studies show that social isolation negatively affects both physical and mental health, and even increases mortality rates. But research also indicates that connecting with others improves health and well-being as much as good nutrition and regular exercise. That’s why Wider Circle helps seniors stay socially engaged. Wider Circle’s network of groups across California gives older adults opportunities to meet new friends who share their personal interests and enjoy a fulfilling social life while also assisting with access to health navigation and support. Health Plan of San Mateo (HPSM) has proudly partnered with Wider Circle since 2017 so that our CareAdvantage members can benefit from their unique program. Here is the story of one person whose life is better because of Wider Circle.
Making new friends makes a senior happier & healthier
Dora is 70, and likes to stay active. She goes to the gym, enjoys hiking and dancing, and works as a food server in a senior living facility cafeteria. She also spends time with family. Though her husband passed away several years ago, she has a 50-year-old daughter and sees her three grandchildren often.
After Dora returned from visiting her sister in their native El Salvador, her employer said they had enough food servers for at least the next six weeks. Although the time out of work could have been depressing and isolating, Dora was fortunate enough to receive a call from Lisa at Wider Circle asking if she’d like to check out the Wider Circle social activity group that was just starting up in Redwood City. “I had time, and I wanted a new experience,” Dora says, “so I said yes.”
At the “kickoff” event, Dora learned how Wider Circle helps people. She chose to join, and was assigned to a 12-member group that met once a week for six 90-minute sessions. All of Wider Circle’s in-person sessions are hosted by skilled facilitators who have experience working with seniors. They direct structured activities that are designed to improve mobility, memory and vitality. Activities include healthy lifestyle discussions, moderate physical movement (such as walking or “chair volleyball”) and ample time for socializing. Groups also go on outings to restaurants, parks, museums and other local attractions.
Darin, one of Wider Circle’s cofounders, hosts the meetings for Dora’s group with Lisa. Dora says that when Darin leads health and wellness discussions, “He explains things in a way that is very easy to understand, but he is also very specific and goes into details. He gives us exercises to do. He is very well-prepared. You can sense that he likes what he is doing.”
HPSM CareAdvantage Medicare Specialists also help Wider Circle members improve their health by offering group presentations about how to navigate the health care system. “Wider Circle offers health plan members face-to-face access to experts in the field that help them improve their health and get the most from their health plan,” says Wider Circle’s Director of Accounts, Alex Salinsky. Wider Circle also connects participants with other community resources that can help with issues ranging from food assistance and legal aid to housing.
For Dora and the new friends she’s made, the assistance from Wider Circle has been transformative. One member facing food insecurity was set up with assistance from CalFresh. Others got help filling out forms to maintain their health insurance and secure housing. The new social connections Dora and her peers forged in the group also empowered them to help one another. One member helped another member get a new job, and Wider Circle friends were able to provide critical social support to a member suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
Dora enjoyed and valued her six-week Wider Circle experience so much that she continues attending monthly “chapter” meetings. These are much larger community events that enable members to meet more people and expand their circle of friends. She has also given back to the program because she wants others to get as much out of it as she has. When Wider Circle started another new group in her area, Dora came to the orientation meeting to tell people about her experience and answer questions about the program. She volunteers as a Member Representative, which includes calling Spanish-speaking seniors who are eligible to join the program and encourages them to give it a try. She also calls existing members to remind them about upcoming events. The fact that Dora volunteers to tell strangers about Wider Circle speaks volumes about how much the program means to her.
Praise for Wider Circle
"At Wider Circle we’re passionate about helping older adults build community and social connections to live fuller, healthier lives. We’re proud to partner with HPSM to support the health and vitality of the San Mateo community."
"Wider Circle gives Rotary Plaza residents a way to get to know their neighbors at home and also discover other life-enriching resources, such as local senior centers, where they can make even more new friends."