BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS
“Community is key… and when it’s not there, a residence is just an institution.”
– Wil, Frasier Meadows Assisted Living
What One Person Wanted for Their Life in a Senior Residence:
The CircleTalk program was the inspiration of Vanna Weyman, a vigorous elder herself and mother of five grown children. When her husband of 60 years was hospitalized after a stroke, Vanna decided to sell the family home and move into a senior residence. She moved forward without regret for the past and in anticipation of making new friends, but what she actually found was that it was difficult to really get to know her neighbors beyond small talk. She felt there was no natural way to have meaningful conversations about the things that mattered to her most… life experiences, family, relationships, shared interests and universal matters. When her daughter returned from a weekend course, which taught a discussion-based, interactive program created to cultivate deep conversations and a sense of community in school classrooms, Vanna, 85, had her Eureka moment: “That’s what we need in my retirement home!”
CircleTalk was launched in 2010 as a pilot project to develop a new weekly, discussion-based program for older adults that facilitated deeper conversations and interpersonal connections, reflecting upon the many universal aspects of life.
CircleTalk is based on the seminal work of Rachael Kessler and the PassageWorks Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
CircleTalk is a regularly scheduled, structured conversation program guided by trained leaders. CircleTalk programs follow a customized and evocative curriculum that engages older adults in meaningful conversations. This guided method utilizes creative activities to inspire personal sharing.
CircleTalk is carefully designed for older adults so that they may:
- Enjoy a sense of belonging, and a feeling of community
- Experience meaningful engagement and connection in small groups
- Feel less isolated.
- Have new opportunities for personal expression, relationship building, and healthy community.
As adults negotiate the transitions of aging, whether it is a move to a senior residence or remaining in one’s home, too often, social networks are disrupted or lost often leading to loneliness, isolation, and lack of meaningful community. Additionally, we know that often it is daunting to rebuild meaningful connections and relationships as newcomers to senior communities.
A multitude of studies have established:
- Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of cognitive decline and depression as people age.
- Individuals who feel that they are alone are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in late life as those who are not lonely.
- Loneliness has been shown to increase mortality and decrease recovery from illness.
Studies say that improving the model of social engagement and interaction in senior residential settings can improve or even in some cases reverse some of the profound impacts of aging including dementia, depression and reduced physical well-being.
There are few senior programs that are designed primarily to attain social engagement outcomes and CircleTalk specifically addresses this gap in residential programs.
CircleTalk is a simple idea—
- People get together regularly,
- They reflect on issues and share their stories about things that don’t normally arise in simple conversation,
- They connect more deeply and meaningfully with each other.
The conversation is structured with a predictable format that promotes meaningful conversation.
The processes help provide safety and engagement.
The curriculum provides enormous variety and unique content.
How Does CircleTalk Work in Any Setting Where Older Adults Gather?
CircleTalk has been field-tested for over 700 hours in senior residences and senior centers with consistent and demonstrated success.
The CircleTalk Method: Trained CircleTalk Leaders are prepared to skillfully use specific strategies and best practices in group dynamics to build “safety” among members as they learn to express themselves and share their personal stories. The CircleTalk curriculum guides the leader to establish a consistent format for each meeting that builds group interconnection and opportunities for deep listening and expression.
The CircleTalk Processes: Members are guided through a series of creative “prompts for discussion” that include short stories, poetry, written exercises, and more.
The CircleTalk Curriculum: This is a specialized and customized full year curriculum that is easy to learn and implement in a variety of settings. It is engaging and colorful and supports new leaders to offer this program with skill and ease.
How CircleTalk Directly Benefits Your Organization and Staff:
- An important strategy for adding structure to social interactions and decreasing isolation and loneliness for newcomers and those who would benefit from more social interaction within their community;
- Attractive benefit that distinguishes your organization. Engaged and connected residents don’t leave.
- Innovative and popular programming that typically becomes the “anchor” of the activities schedule.
- Engages staff in more satisfying interactions with residents;
- Reintegrates adults with mild cognitive impairments into a social fabric that is supportive and open;
- Provides intellectual stimulation, positive emotional impact, sense of purpose, meaning.
Why CircleTalk Appeals to Family Members:
- Assures families that their relatives are engaged in activities that support self-identity;
- Creates a sense of comfort that loved ones are respected and known for their full life experience, abilities and previous social roles;
- Builds confidence that community is caring for the whole person;
- Creates a place for belonging.
By reviving spirit, vitality, and joy in a comfortable group setting, we alleviate and sometimes eliminate the feelings of loneliness and isolation often experienced by older adults.
Deborah Skovron, CircleTalk Director/Creative Director
Deborah has extensive experience in group dynamics and project management. For the last 30 years, Deborah has served as Executive Director of the Society for Creative Aging as well as in numerous management consultant roles for non-profit organizations serving at risk populations. Deborah’s work focuses upon building capacity in people and pioneering new concepts that have powerful social impact.
CircleTalk Advisory Board
The CircleTalk Advisory Board believes that everyone needs and should have opportunities for deep and meaningful human connections and embraces the importance of the social and emotional well-being of elders.
Jenny Weyman Chartoff, founder and funder of CircleTalk. Jenny initiated and funded the introduction of the Passageworks program to Wildwood Elementary School in Santa Monica, CA, and is vice president of the Buddha Educational Trust.
Ruth Hendersen, tax consultant and board member of Social Venture Partners, Boulder County. Ruth believes strongly in community, conversation, and caring.
Lynn Israel, serves as Director of Community Engagement at PassageWorks Institute. Lynn has spent the majority of her career as a teacher, counselor and school administrator. She worked as an admissions and outreach at Colorado College and in Development at the University of Colorado. She is currently the co-chair of the Women Donor’s Network Earth Circle. She is also the Director of Development and dancer in local dance company. She received her Ed.M from Harvard University and a MA from the University of Santa Monica in Consciousness, Health and Healing.
Alaine Lerner, principal at A.J. Lerner Market Research. With more than 25 years of market research experience as a consultant/research manager, Alaine designs and implements research studies to support new product development and other important business outcomes, inspiring creative, intuitive, and actionable strategies.
Roberta Levin, has a Master’s Degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner and now uses her skills as a volunteer in interesting locations around the world. She has been involved in various capacities supporting the growth and development of numerous non profits in the Boulder area including Community Food Share, Jewish Colorado and, most recently, the new JCC in Boulder. Roberta is blessed with a 97 year-old father who would be perfect in CircleTalk and she hopes to one day see it offered in senior communities around the country.
Harry R. Moody, retired vice president for Academic Affairs, AARP. Author of THE FIVE STAGES OF THE SOUL: Charting the Spiritual Passages that Shape Our Lives (Doubleday, 1997), now translated into seven languages worldwide, Harry is a visiting professor from the Creative Longevity and Wisdom Program, Fielding Graduate University.
Michelle Osterman, a founding, enthusiastic CircleTalk advisor. With a professional background in educational and therapeutic engagement with the special needs community, Michelle is a volunteer and key funder for many social impact initiatives including Community Food Share, Allied Jewish Federation, and Perry Mansfield School for the Arts.
Ellen Taxman, MA, Gerontology and Long Term Care Management. Having been involved in the field of aging services for 20 years, Ellen is an aging supportive services practitioner and policy maker. She currently serves as a volunteer long-term-care ombudsman, and chairs the Aging Advisory Council for Boulder County.
Jack Williamson, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) in Marriage and Family Counseling from Georgetown University. As a speaker and trainer for personal and organizational change, Jack is a certified training and business consultant for Interchange International, Inc. He has served as executive director for The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF) and The Endorsers Conference (ECVAC), associations that bring together official representatives of all the major faith communities in the United States, for 16 years.