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Learn Something New, Stay Connected With Virtual Events in Michigan

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Montez Miller didn’t hesitate to join the crowd when she heard that her favorite speaker would be headlining an AARP Michigan event.

She, along with about 400 other viewers, merely jumped online for Ready, Set, Go!, motivational coach Geneva Williams’ workshop on setting goals for 2021. Questions and comments in the on-screen chat area provided camaraderie and a chance to converse with Williams. 

“The program was very uplifting, and the conversation was awesome,” said Miller, 61, a photographer and videographer from Oak Park. “Virtual events like this give people the opportunity to have an experience and still remain safe.” 

AARP Michigan’s shift to online offerings during the coronavirus pandemic has been so successful it plans to hold virtual activities even after it’s safe to resume in-person events.

“At first it was scary,” said Paula Cunningham, AARP Michigan’s state director. “We started by offering crucial COVID-related information, but after a while, people wanted balance and to hear about other things.” 

From do-it-yourself projects to diabetes education to beer tasting to Black history, AARP programs are available at the click of a mouse or smartphone button. 

Incorporating many of the themes and features of workshops offered in person, the digital events reach people who formerly couldn’t attend because of distance, disability, scheduling and other issues, said Karen Kafantaris, associate state director for AARP Michigan. AARP staffers have worked hard to avoid redundancy and to conceive fresh, diverse topics. 

“Even for a knee-replacement seminar, we had 400 people,” Kafantaris said.

Beer, food and more

Six to eight events are live-streamed each month and recorded for on-demand viewing. People can engage with the presenters, usually by typing questions and comments into the chat areas on platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

About 50 volunteers help manage the chats, and some others even enter the spotlight. Last year, AARP staff filmed retired civil engineer Jim Kirschensteiner, 75, of Lansing, building a simple raised garden bed. The video was such a hit they presented it again in March, with Kirschensteiner online to narrate and answer questions. 

Some 600 people registered for the event and hundreds more watched the replay.

“For things like this, an edited video actually is even better than in person,” Kirschensteiner said. “Who wants to watch me sawing up two-by-fours? This way we can edit out the boring parts.”

The virtual events are free and open to the public, and don’t require an account with Facebook or any other platform.

Upcoming programs include a beer-and-food pairing, on Tuesday, June 22, at 6 p.m., and a fall gardening class, on Thursday, July 22, at 11 a.m. Monthly music sessions take place the fourth Saturday of every month at 11 a.m., including June 26.

Plans for later in the year include a HomeFit workshop on ways to age-proof your residence and a caregiver support session in November, National Family Caregivers Month.  

For a complete list of events, go to aarp.org/mi or call 866-227-7448.

Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth.

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