The “theme” of friendship
by Ana Maria King and Alethea Alexander
Pick a random coin from your pocket or your change jar. Look at the year on the coin and think back. What were you doing that year? Have a favorite childhood memory? An interesting job? A trip? What’s your story?
This is just one of the activities (or “themes”) that neighbors participated in, as they get to know each other as part of the PNA Village Pod program.
The PNA Village is a program that galvanizes volunteer services and social connections to help older adults to stay in their own homes as they age. The Village introduced Pods in 2018 in an effort to encourage friendship and connection among neighbors in geographical proximity.
Donna and Linda are co-organizers of one of the first Pods—the North Ballard Pod—that started the same year. Some combination of the eight members meets every second Friday (either in-person outdoors or Zoom, depending on preference). At the heart of the gatherings is a dedication to including everyone so that folks can get to know each other in a fun, non-threatening way.
Organizing this social time around “themes” (like the coin jar-inspired storytelling) really took off when Zoom meetings started. Themes help guide and generate rich conversation.
“All of our members have been able to share, even people who are a little bit more shy. Everyone is glad to know that every second Friday of the month, we meet. That’s the ‘connecting’ part that’s important – the really getting to know people on a different level,” Donna explains of the North Ballard Pod.
Some other examples of past themes include: Made, baked, created, or collected (Linda shared a short historical fiction story she wrote for this one); If you could go on vacation anywhere, where?; What was your vocation (before retirement)?; Favorite teacher or subject in elementary school?; Share a picture or story from when you were younger.
“All these activities help you really bond with everyone and get to know each other,” Donna says. Folks are invited to share things “from the past, present” and, Donna adds, “sometimes the topic goes into what’s more current, too” or touches on hopes for the future. Linda remembers getting good suggestions for new foods to try during a gathering where the “theme” was Restaurants with good take-out or delivery.
Linda’s favorite part of being part of the Pod is that “the conversation is both personal and casual and you get to know people and share. We let the conversation go wherever it wants to go.”
Connections and activities for this group have extended beyond the original monthly meeting format: folks from the North Ballard Pod have attended activities together. For example, before COVID, a group arranged carpools for its members so that they could all attend an author talk at the Greenwood Senior Center. On another occasion, a member who is a painter hosted a watercolor workshop for the group at their home. Activities like these provide “more of an organic way of getting to know each other,” Donna says.
Donna also remembers, “We have one member who is sight-impaired and so one time we met at her house. She was 98 at the time, and everybody in our pod showed up—everybody—and she was just so thrilled to have us there and it was so fun.”
During the quarantine, the North Ballard Pod stayed connected. After a bit of organizing, many members kept meeting over Zoom, still using themes and prompt questions to fuel interesting discussion and to get to know each other better.
Donna and Linda wanted to make sure that the new virtual format didn’t exclude anyone who wanted to participate. One sight-impaired member couldn’t use Zoom and they figured out the hard way that the call-in number charged long-distance to her phone. Determined to get her on the call, Donna figured out that she could utilize the long distance on her iPhone plan and then merge her in for free.
Every second Friday, the North Ballard Pod still gets together to laugh, and continue to learn about one another. Some members meet outdoors, if they are comfortable; and some meet on Zoom. Regardless of how folks “join” the group, they are invited to share stories and ideas based on the theme of the meeting. And they connect with each other and continue to build friendships.
The PNA Village program provides essential services to people who want to stay in their own homes as they age. It also offers all kinds of opportunities to keep connected with community – a perfect tie-in to this year’s theme for the Power of Community Fundraiser – Connecting to the Future.