We are honored to receive DHS Grant

by Cynthia Germain

The Department of Health Services (DHS) announced 37 grants were awarded to form or enhance a local coalition and develop innovative and relevant solutions that address the unique needs of local populations and communities related to social isolation. Do Good Door County is proud to be one of the recipients of the DHS grant to enhance the Aging Coalition of Door County and implement a community project aimed at addressing the social isolation in our community.

“The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively. More broadly, lacking social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day…” – U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.

Door County stands as the second oldest county in the state, with a significant portion of its population, approximately 47%, aged over 55. This demographic landscape underscores the critical importance of understanding and addressing the needs of older adults in the community. In response, the Aging Coalition of Door County (ACDC) emerged in June 2022. This coalition unites various organizations dedicated to serving the elderly and individuals with disabilities, including its primary members which are the Aging and Disability Resource Center, Door County Connect, Do Good Door County, Door-Tran, Unity Hospice, DJ Ferguson and Associates, PFLAG Door County, Advocates In-Home Care, Jays Legacy Home Care and community members.

Collaboration is not merely desirable but essential in addressing the pervasive issues of isolation and loneliness among older adults in our community. A county wide survey was conducted in the Fall of 2022 funded by the Bader Foundation as a collaboration between Do Good Door County and St. Norbert’s Strategic Research Institute with direct involvement from ACDC members to formulate questions and encourage response. This survey focused on aging-in-place topics including socialization.

The main objectives of this survey were to understand community perception of needs and structural supports that positively allow Door County residents to remain in their homes as they age. One key finding was that most Door County residents would like to engage in more social activities as they age, with 50% indicating that they would like to engage more in the community, 38% wanting to engage at the ADRC, YMCA or similar, and 37% wanting to engage in their own home. An additional result worth noting is the response regarding how residents find out about Door County services. 66% of respondents indicated that they learned about services via word of mouth, followed by 50% using general internet search and 48% learning through the local newspaper.

Also included in the survey were open ended questions that had respondents indicate what type of services, in addition to those listed, would help you stay in your home as you age, what social activities would you like to engage in as you age, and what services should be offered in Door County to help residents age in place. The responses to these questions gleaned the important fact that there are perceived barriers to socialization, many of which were lack of knowledge of services currently available.

To address these challenges, ACDC initiated two community events in 2023, held in the city of Sturgeon Bay in the Spring and Sister Bay in the Fall. Despite efforts to promote these events through various media outlets, attendance remained low, reflecting the prevailing reliance on word-of-mouth information. Recognizing the need for innovative outreach strategies, ACDC launched a request for proposal from marketing firms in January 2024 to garner possible avenues of outreach for a broad-scale community communication targeting hard-to-reach individuals and enhancing awareness of available services. The results of the responding marketing firms were reviewed in February, and those firms were interviewed in March with the focus on demographic data and innovation to reach those “hard to reach” individuals. ACDC reviewed all the data and incorporated the information into the grant proposal.

The approach of the DHS funded project centers on the implementation of a social engagement initiative as well as the continued development of a robust coalition of partners, encompassing a wide array of organizations and stakeholders vested in the well-being of older adults. Related to the strengthened collaboration and expansion of ACDC, the project will aim to disseminate information effectively and engage with hard-to-reach community members through strategic outreach efforts.

The social engagement initiative will utilize the Vitality in Aging program originally developed in 2010 by Dr. William Gingold, Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. This program was created to motivate seniors to maintain health practices by awarding Vitality in Aging Stamps, like S& H Green Stamps, that can be redeemed for prizes when the seniors engage in three types of activities: Physical activities, regular food and fluid intake (Nutrition activities), and Socialization activities.

S&H Green Stamps, a rewards program popular in the 1940s through the 70s, served to motivate consumers to frequent local businesses by providing stamps that were collected in books and redeemed for products in a catalog. This program is readily identifiable to the senior population, with S&H Green Stamps company having distributed 35 million catalogs a year during the 1960s. The redemption portion of the Vitality in Aging program intends to motivate individuals to complete targeted activities daily, building positive social, physical and nutritional habits over time.

Participants engaging in the Vitality in Aging program are expected to have reduced feelings of loneliness and social isolation through increased social interactions and community engagement. In addition, participating in the physical, nutritional and socialization of the program, older adults are anticipated to experience improved well-being. And finally, through treasure hunt type activities and informational advertisements, participants will gain knowledge about available community services and resources, empowering them to seek support and stay connected.

A team at Do Good Door County has been assembled to spearhead this important effort, focusing on the growth of the Aging Coalition of Door County and rolling out the Vitality in Aging program over the next ten months. Stay tuned!