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Stay Connected in the COVID-19 Era With Virtual Activities in Tennessee

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Last year, AARP Tennessee hosted more than 100 community events across the state. But when the coronavirus forced shutdowns, it quickly went virtual, launching online and telephone events to help ward off pandemic fatigue.

Members can go on the web and learn to cook healthy and delicious meals, take an exercise class, have a lunchtime conversation or try origami, the art of Japanese paper folding. The classes help them stay physically and mentally healthy during a time of isolation and change.

“We know that socialization is critical to good mental health, and connecting with other people even virtually will offer important mental stimulation,” said Rebecca Kelly, AARP Tennessee’s state director.

MORE: Find a virtual event

Sarah White, 73, of Lebanon, an AARP volunteer leader, recently took a virtual cooking class hosted by Knoxville-based chef John Alunni. On the menu: salmon, pineapple salsa and rice pilaf.

White, who is a former executive director of school nutrition programs for the state, said she was amazed by the quality of the instruction. “I learned several things, and I’ve worked in nutrition my entire life,” she said. 

When the pandemic shut down the Asian Festival in Knoxville—a popular event where AARP has a booth and is one of the sponsors—local volunteer leader LayKoon Huang, 72, sprang into action. 

She teamed up with the executive director of the Asian Culture Center of Tennessee to host a series of online classes. That led to a video series with a sushi preparation class, a virtual Japanese tea ceremony and four lessons
on origami. 

Online classes are a good way to keep members connected, said Huang, a retired Knoxville physician, who is also the diversity lead for AARP’s East Tennessee Leadership Team.

“It’s so important to stimulate the brain and keep that going and get folks excited about things,” she said.

Advocating for change

In addition to staying connected through AARP events, members are increasingly reaching out to their elected officials. 

“People are at home and they’re taking action,” Kelly said.

Members made more than 100 phone calls to lawmakers when the Tennessee General Assembly went back into session, she said. 

“Our advocacy work has stayed strong at the national and state levels,” Kelly said. “People still care about issues that affect them, and they’ve taken action by email and phone and virtual visits with our elected officials.”

Expanding high-speed internet is a top AARP advocacy priority, especially at a time when more Tennesseans need access to telehealth services so they can safely get care at home during the coronavirus crisis. 

AARP Tennessee is also pushing to ensure that nursing homes have adequate COVID-19 testing capabilities and personal protective equipment for workers, as well as virtual visitation options for residents’ families.

Members interested in becoming virtual advocates or attending the online classes and get-togethers can find information, including a list of upcoming virtual events, at facebook.com/AARPTennessee

A schedule of online classes and telephone town halls, as well as a list of videos of past events for members who missed them, is available at aarp.org/tn

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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