JoCo on the Go Podcast: Senior Connectedness

On episode #163 of JoCo on the Go, we discuss Johnson County programs designed to help older adults get better connected to their community. Feelings related to loneliness and belonging can often arise in this population, and Johnson County’s departments of Health and Environment and Aging and Human Services both have several programs designed to help. From a program that connects students with older adults in independent living facilities to programs like congregate meal sites, Johnson County is working to ensure older adults can stay connected to their communities and have better health outcomes as a result.

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Time Subject
00:25 Introduction
04:02 Bridging the Gap program
07:58 Know Your Neighbor cards
11:43 Nutrition Centers
13:34 Classes for older adults
15:27 Adaptive stuffed animals


Andy Hyland 0:00 

For older adults, feelings of loneliness can become increasingly significant. Today we'll discuss several Johnson County programs and initiatives to help seniors deal with these issues.

Announcer 0:11 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Andy Hyland 0:25 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Andy Hyland. I work in public affairs at Johnson County Government. And we're here to talk about some county initiatives for older adults to help them navigate feelings of loneliness and belonging. And joining us today to talk about this topic are two representatives from Johnson County. First, Evelyn Dubey, from our county's Department of Health and Environment. Evelyn, welcome. And can you tell us a little bit about you and your role?

Evelyn Dubey 0:53 

Thanks, Andy. Yeah, my role at the Department of Health and Environment is as an emergency planner and community resilience coordinator. Really what that entails is not only working on and updating our emergency plans and guidances, but also working with community members, organizations and other local partners to evaluate and understand barriers and challenges that populations face around preparing for emergencies. And then we create solutions to set barriers.

Andy Hyland 1:23 

Excellent. And also joining us is Lindsay Huddlestun, from our aging and Human Services Department. And welcome Lindsay, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Lindsay Huddlestun 1:32 

Yes, thank you, Andy. My name is Lindsay Huddlestun. I'm an eligibility and options specialist with the Johnson County Aging and Human Services Department. What that entails is I am a social worker that goes out to our older adults, bombs in the Johnson County area, and assess weekly assessments to get our individuals hooked up to services and involved in the community. Johnson County Ag and Human Services kind of has two divisions within it. So we've got aging division and Outreach Division, aging, our main goal is to get individuals connected to services to be able to remain in their home and stay independent as possible. The outreach side, you know, they kind of have similar goals of keeping people in their homes and remaining independent, but they help individuals and families of all ages. And in regards to utility assistance.

Andy Hyland 2:30 

Wonderful. And so, Evelyn, let's start with you. I think you've been involved in a couple of different programs that focus in this area that we're talking about today, helping seniors deal with issues of loneliness and belonging. Why is this? Why is this of interest to you? And how does it tie back to community health, which is your daily job?

Evelyn Dubey 2:52 

Sure. When we look at community resilience, we look at it through the lens of improving a community's overall ability to adapt, respond and recover quickly from adverse events. And social connection is really a main theme that we see over and over again as being a crucial aspect of that, particularly for older adults. So when I started at the department in 2023, it really stuck out to me as something that I wanted to focus on and start creating initiatives for. As far as impacts on health, social connection affects us not only mentally, but physically as well. Poor social connection is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, dementia, and more. While on the opposite end of that spectrum, strong social networks have been associated with better self-rated health and disease management among individuals. So having that support and involvement makes a huge difference.

Andy Hyland 3:51 

Very good. And so one of the programs I wanted to talk to you about was the Bridging the Gap program that you're involved with. So tell us a little bit about that and how it works.

Evelyn Dubey 4:02 

Right. Well, what we know is that older adults and the younger generation both experience higher levels of isolation and feelings of loneliness, but for different reasons. So this project brings together local high school students and older adults who reside at independent care facilities where students can host interviews with these older adults, just asking them questions about life, getting to hear their incredible stories, and really receive that amazing wisdom that so many older adults are eager and willing to share. And a lot of times, part of the advice that older adults give revolves around the importance of social connection, and having close friendships that you can lean on as you go through life. So we also record these sessions and give a copy of the recordings back to participants as a memento for them to look back on, listen to again if they want to. And the students can use these recordings for classes, newspaper yearbook, other academic projects like that.

Andy Hyland 4:59 

Let's listen to one of those recordings now. Here, student Hannah Royer visits with interviewees, Janet Elliott and Anne Hendrickson.

Interviewer 5:08 

Yeah and you guys both mentioned, like, community and how important that is. But as, like, someone younger, it's really easy to have, like, that group of friends. But once you go off to college and as you like approach being an adult and doing kind of your own things, how do you guys, like, keep a community to like, have somebody to lean on?

Interviewee 5:30 

Oh yeah, well, I ended up in college, I had these six, five friends or six of us. And we continued to have, even though we were different states, we kept in contact with each other. When we had a problem, we dealt with it, the six of us did. So I had that group. And then when you have a church, you usually have some pretty close friends in churches, she mentioned here, and then maybe even in your workplace. I've had some real good friends in my workplace. It's something you're...everywhere you are if you can find someone to help you, because you're gonna have a problem and you're going to work through obstacles.

Andy Hyland 6:08 

Great advice there on forming these important bonds with others. How long has this program been going on?

Evelyn Dubey 6:14 

We had our first set of interviews back in October of 2023. And since then, we have at least one or two sessions every month with different care facilities participating and students from different high schools as well.

Andy Hyland 6:27 

How did you get the idea for it to get started with it?

Evelyn Dubey 6:33 

We were thinking about social connection, and I was doing some research on people who experienced higher levels of isolation. And it was really interesting to see that both older generations and younger generations did. And so just trying to think of a way that we could incorporate these two sets of folks who usually wouldn't have the opportunity to get to know each other otherwise.

Andy Hyland 6:51 

That's great.

Evelyn Dubey 6:52 

And it was a good opportunity. Oh, sorry.

Andy Hyland 6:54 

No, go ahead.

Evelyn Dubey 6:55 

It was a good opportunity to have students who needed community service hours for like National Honor Society, it was a really good way to get them involved in and have them do things for those organizations.

Andy Hyland 7:06 

What kind of feedback have you received on this so far from the participants?

Evelyn Dubey 7:11 

It's really positive. Based on surveys we have folks fill out after interviews, 100% of our participants said they enjoyed the conversations they had, they felt like they were able to personally connect with the people they had conversations with. And not only that, but many of the students have said they want to get connected again with the older adults that they interviewed. So it's really fun just getting to see these relationships, and again, connections with people that probably wouldn't have met otherwise. And a lot of them sign up again for more interviews and say if they want to recommend participating to their friends and other residents. So it's all just great feedback to hear.

Andy Hyland 7:49 

That's wonderful. And I think another program I know you've been involved with is Know Your Neighbor cards. And so what is the idea behind that?

Evelyn Dubey 7:58 

Yeah, so the Know Your Neighbor cards are an opportunity for members of our community to share just their basic contact information with those they're geographically closest with, in neighborhoods, apartment complexes, those kinds of things. Because neighbors are often the first people we think of, or turn to during emergencies o r other times of need, just because of how quickly they're able to get to us. And this is especially relevant for older adults who might need extra assistance during those instances, if they have mobility issues or no form of transportation, f they rely on durable medical equipment, there's a power outage, those types of situations. So these physical cards are small, and it just has space for you to put your name, address a good way to contact you. And then you can hand them out to folks when you're on a walk or put it in someone's store, distribute them in an HOA meeting, really any and all ways of getting them out there. And then that way people have just something easy that they can stick on their fridge, have it accessible for when that time might come.

Andy Hyland 9:01 

And so how does someone get access to those cards if they want them? Are they available on your website?

Evelyn Dubey 9:06 

Yes they are. And right now we do have the cards physically at five Johnson County Library locations. So those would be Antioch, Corinth, Central Resource, Lenexa City Center and Oak Park. And we're working on getting them displayed at more of those library branches. But anyone can print the cards out for themselves by going to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment website, and just searching Know Your Neighbor cards. Then they'll just click on Family Emergency Preparedness. There'll be a direct link for people to print out those cards, as well as a video explaining a little bit more about why the cards are important and how they can be used. So even if you don't have a printer at home, you can go to your nearest Johnson County Library location and print them out there.

Andy Hyland 9:48 

And tell us a little bit about why these programs are so important. What suffers when neighborhoods don't have those strong connections?

Evelyn Dubey 9:57 

Sure. And I think that we touched a little bit on this throughout the conversation, but what really suffers when not only neighborhoods, but just people in general don't have these strong connections in networks is their mental health, their physical health, but their sense of belonging and their sense of identity as being a member of Johnson County. And when folks don't have those things, it becomes even harder to get through really tough times. So that's what we're aiming to do here is create these programs and initiatives that allow people to feel more supported and feel like they have folks that they can lean on within this community.

Andy Hyland 10:30 

That's great. And if people want to get involved with the first program that you talked about, is there a way they can do that?

Evelyn Dubey 10:37 

Absolutely. So what they can do is if they have a high schooler in their life, or somebody they know who's at an assisted care facility who might want to participate, they can reach out to us at the department. And they can always reach out to me personally, and we can see how we can get them involved, for sure.

Andy Hyland 10:53 

Very good. Very good. Thank you. Lindsay, let's get to you now, and I know our Aging and Human Services group deals a lot with these kinds of issues as well. So you talked a little bit at the beginning. But remind us quickly about stuff that you do, too.

Lindsay Huddlestun 11:09 

Yeah, our job is to, you know, have these older adults that live in our community to be able to remain in their homes and be able to remain in their community and remain as independent as possible. So our job at Aging and Human Services is to go out and complete assessments and connect these individuals to resources, so then they can stay in our community.

Andy Hyland 11:31 

And so I know your office offers a number of great programs, and maybe we can start with nutrition centers. So how does that service assist seniors and connectedness?

Lindsay Huddlestun 11:43 

Yeah, so we actually have kind of three different options when it comes to our nutrition section of our department. And so really, the main goal was to be able to provide nutritious meals to our seniors over the age of 60, but also provide social connectedness, a feeling of belonging, of not being isolated. And so we kind of can do both of those things with all of our programs in nutrition. So we have actually congregate meal sites. And those are sites that individuals 60 and over and their spouse can go to in their neighborhood    and enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and also engage with other people in the community. They also do movies, games, birthday celebrations, so kind of being able to connect as a neighborhood. And to be able to do that while getting a hot meal. We also have our CHAMPSS program, which is our partnership with HyVee. So some participating HyVee stores in the Johnson County area allow our seniors over the age of 60 and their spouses to go to HyVee and also get a hot meal as well. And then we also have our Home-Delivered Meals, which is for our homebound individuals, so our individuals that are no longer able to drive and don't have a means of transportation. We have that program where our volunteers deliver a hot meal to them and can be a smiling face and someone checking in on them daily Monday through Friday. So we kind of have lots of different options with our nutrition program that essentially allows all of our individuals in our community over the age of 60 to be able to get a hot meal and have some social connection.

Andy Hyland 13:28 

I know you also offer classes, including some online. So what can you tell us about those?

Lindsay Huddlestun 13:34 

Yeah, in 2022, we started doing some virtual classes. And we offer virtual cooking classes. And we offered some art classes too. So we did some watercolor painting classes and some acrylic painting classes as well. And then we started doing some of those actually in person. And we did a Lunch and Learn series where there are different areas in the county that we hosted events in regards to emergency preparedness for seniors, another kind of one bringing in people that have done making quilts, documentaries, kind of all different forms of art. And it's just a way for our individuals in our community to be able to connect with one another on these classes, and also potentially learn a new skill so that they can become more independent, such as the cooking classes, or it allows them to, you know, hone in on a skill that they haven't done before, like the watercolor or the acrylic painting. So just allows them all to connect and do something fun at the same time.

Andy Hyland 14:42 

And what kind of feedback do you get from those programs too? I mean, I sounds like fun to me.

Lindsay Huddlestun 14:48 

Yes. Yeah, we've gotten amazing feedback. Basically the reason why we continue to keep doing them was because our seniors kept requesting them and kept requesting when's another one I'm coming, can we do a multi-step class? You know, with a watercolor, can we do multiple classes to do one painting. And so we've gotten amazing feedback. And I think a lot of our individuals have really enjoyed that opportunity to participate in that.

Andy Hyland 15:17 

I also heard something about something that I don't know a lot about, which is adaptive stuffed animals. So what can you tell me about adaptive stuffed animals? I'm not really familiar with those.

Lindsay Huddlestun 15:27 

Yeah, so we provided an option for all of our clients to be able to receive either a dog or a cat or a bird. They call this bird actually the Walker Squawker. So you could put it on your durable medical equipment on your walker. But essentially, what it is, is a lot of our individuals, you know, they have mobility issues, they maybe have some difficulty moving around their home. And so being able to take care of a pet is a task. And so these animals kind of take away that task part of it. They take away the part of taking them out, feeding them, but it still provides that companionship of a pet. You know, there's a lot of people that enjoy having pets, and they always say they're the most loyal companion. So we offer that to our clients that they could receive a dog or a cat or a bird. And they actually do make noise, they move their heads. And so yeah, they bark, they meow, and they kind of move. So they those have been a really successful thing for all of our clients, too. I was worried when they first came out. I was like, I don't know that many people enjoy them. But we've had a wonderful turnout. And I would say the majority of our clients have asked for a second animal.

Andy Hyland 16:45 

That's great. That's fantastic. So what is the best way for people who are interested in taking advantage of some of these programs, residents in our county who qualify to, to reach out to get more information about it?

Lindsay Huddlestun 17:00 

Yeah, they can reach out to us by phone. Our phone number is 913-715-8800. And then they can talk to one of our staff about getting connected to one of these programs. They can also visit our website, the Johnson County Aging and Human Services website. And on our website, we actually have an online referral that someone can put all their information in as well. And one of our staff members will contact you. So there's multiple ways you can either call us or you can check us out on the website. And then we're always looking for more volunteers too, volunteers for our Catch-a-Ride program, our Home-Delivered Meals program and for our food pantry. So that's a really great way to stay connected as well as to volunteer your time for people. So if you're interested in that, then they can reach out to us by phone or on our website as well.

Andy Hyland 17:52 

Lindsay, I think you told me that in your your day job, so to speak, you get to interact a lot with seniors directly. Is that right? And if so, what what kind of...give us a story or an anecdote, you can tell maybe about one of those interactions that helps illustrate the importance of these programs maybe.

Lindsay Huddlestun 18:15 

Yeah, so I've had the privilege of pretty much every single day being out in clients' homes. And that's kind of a wonderful experience in itself, that I can be in their environment. And kind of the social isolation piece. You know, a lot of these people have barriers with transportation. And so us being able to go to them and visit with them in their environment is a wonderful gift that we've have. I mean, I have so many client stories and so many wonderful, you know, memories in this job of going and doing these things. But I can think of, you know, a married couple that are on our Home-Delivered Meals program. And they receive a hot meal Monday through Friday. They have been in our community since 1969. They actually built their home and have been in Johnson County and worked in Johnson County. So it's wonderful for people that have given so much to our community that we are able to give back to them and providing home-delivered meals and being able to provide them with our in-home services as well. We have in home services that can assist with, like, laundry, light housekeeping, bath aid, medications, so some things that some of our seniors may struggle with, that we can assist with so that they can remain independent. And so it's lovely to be able to visit with people that have given so much to our community that we can give back to them and allow them to stay in it.

Andy Hyland 19:48 

That's great. I know getting the word out is one of the things that you work on doing every day, and I'm so happy to help spread the word for both of you about these great programs and opportunities. So we really appreciate you joining us to talk about them. If it was, for both of you, anything we didn't talk about that should have or any other services or programs you'd like to mention?

Evelyn Dubey 20:12 

I would just say, you know, if there are people in your neighborhood that you've never really gotten to know, but you've kind of always wanted to maybe find the opportunity to have that conversation and start building those really important relationships and just take this as your opportunity to do that.

Andy Hyland 20:28 

Good advice.

Lindsay Huddlestun 20:29 

Yeah, I kind of second that. And then also, I know Evelyn had mentioned the Know Your Neighbor cards. And over at Aging and Human Services, we actually have a book too. It's called All About Me, that we gave all of our clients, and they're available in our office, or you can also contact us. But very similar kind of just outlining different fun facts about individuals, kind of creating conversation with people. And it also outlines, you know, life planning, future planning, decision making as well. So it outlines all of that, but it also can create wonderful conversations with your family and friends to kind of reminisce on the past and start talking about the future as well.

Andy Hyland 21:11 

That's great. Thanks to both of you for joining us and for this great conversation. I really appreciate the knowledge and information on an important topic for our community. So thanks again.

Lindsay Huddlestun 21:22 

Thank you.

Evelyn Dubey 21:23 

Thanks, Andy.

Announcer 21:24 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Aging and Human Services
Health and Environment