Curry Senior Center has been a lifeline to older adults for over 45 years, and is finding new ways to create connection and community.
In the Tenderloin, 4,753 seniors live alone. Accessing healthcare can be a challenge for these older adults, but so is staying engaged with a community of friends and family. Social isolation itself is a health risk – comparable to obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and possibly even smoking.
“Being connected is a very big piece that people here in the neighborhood are lacking, especially if you don’t have children or close friends,” said David Knego, Executive Director of Curry Senior Center.
Headquartered in two adjoining buildings at Turk and Leavenworth Streets, Curry Senior Center provides housing to 13 residents and services to an additional 2,000 seniors in the Tenderloin every year, including home visits, case management, daily meals, substance abuse counseling, and educational classes.
The heart of Curry is its primary health care clinic, which includes a pharmacy, podiatry and women’s health.
Curry’s two buildings house five separate entities working closely together: the Curry nonprofit, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Project Open Hand, the Felton Institute, and the property management company Caritas that operates the 13 residential units.
“We’re a senior center, a health center, a community center, and a neighborhood center,” said Knego. “Every day, we host a breakfast and a lunch for more than 175 seniors. Some people come for breakfast and stay through the end of lunch. They don’t just come for the food, they come to get out of the apartment. To feel connected.”
For thousands of seniors in the Tenderloin, Curry is more than a service provider: it’s a place to belong. In the Tenderloin, many residents live in SROs, single-room occupancy “residential hotels.” For residents living alone in SROs, and at a stage of life when social isolation is a higher risk, Curry helps create the social connections that are essential for healthy aging.
Using Technology to Create Connection
In January 2015, Curry launched a new program to help seniors foster social connections: Senior Vitality. Based on a similar program piloted in the Netherlands, Senior Vitality gives participants training on using the Internet and an iPad so they can monitor their own health online and stay in contact with friends and family.
“It’s a comprehensive program,” said Knego. “We’ll come do a home visit and training in your apartment, get you connected to an Internet Service Provider, provide you with an iPad, enroll you in a technology class at Curry and hold your hand all the way through.”
Metta Fund was excited to support Curry in launching Senior Vitality. With more active social connections and access to services over the Internet, Metta hopes older adults will be able to thrive even longer in the communities where they live. In this way, technology can be a powerful tool to improve seniors’ physical, social and psychological health.
“We received some funding for this program from the San Francisco Tech Council, the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services and Twitter,” said Knego. “Metta Fund has given us capacity building grants, which I can take to fund programs like Senior Vitality.”
Curry launched the program by making Wi-Fi available throughout their buildings. Every resident and every senior who came for a meal was welcome to access the Wi-Fi. Curry then expanded the program, tying it into home visits, Internet training classes, and classes for managing chronic diseases using Internet tools.
“Designing this program, tying it all together, took a lot of time and work,” said Knego. “We have funders who want to pay for the program; we don’t have a lot of funders who want to pay for program development, and that’s what Metta Fund does.”
Curry is expanding Senior Vitality gradually, measuring its progress and evaluating its benefits to seniors. Within a year, they hope to partner with DPH to help other health clinics and community centers launch similar technology programs.
Woven Into the Community Through Partnerships
In fact, partnerships are part of what makes Curry a focal point of the older adult community in the Tenderloin. Curry partners with La Raza Centro Legal on legal aid programs, and the Community Technology Network on its computer education program.
Curry and St. Anthony’s, a local service provider, also share their community spaces. Seniors are welcome at St. Anthony’s and Curry invites older members of the St. Anthony’s community to its meals for seniors. “If you can have a meal or a program in the center of the neighborhood that’s lively and fun, we want to support that,” said Knego.
Curry is an active member in several health advocacy coalitions, including the Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership (TLHIP) and Vision Zero. Together, Curry and Walk SF are using a small grant from Vision Zero to keep seniors safe when crossing the street in the Tenderloin.
“The people most often hit by cars are seniors,” said Knego. “So we partnered with Walk SF to provide safety training when crossing the street, and provided participants with a lanyard where they could keep their meal card and bus pass – and a 311 number to call a Friendly Walker volunteer. Everything we do is based in grassroots senior empowerment.”