By Laura Tillman
Marie-Pierre Stien of Houston is a creative person fond of trying new things. A school administrator, she writes flash fiction—stories of less than 500 words—and she’s working on illustrations she will give away to people.
It’s not surprising that Stien, 54, isn’t intimidated by social media. She uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for her artistic endeavors and for advocacy and outreach.
Stien is taking on a relatively new online medium—the podcast—produced by AARP in Houston. The online equivalent of a radio program, her podcasts can be found at aarp.org/houston.
Stien is the host of a new show, Prepare to Care, on caregiving. A recent program focused on the 2-1-1 phone helpline that can provide information on local caregiving resources and other services.
Last year, 115,000 people in the Houston area called with caregiving questions, according to United Way of Greater Houston.
Caregivers include children caring for aging parents and other relatives, and spouses or friends caring for a loved one facing an illness or the end of life.
According to Kim Loop, who leads digital outreach for AARP Texas, there are about 3 million Texans engaged in unpaid caregiving at a given time.
Podcasting, she said, is just one way social media and other online tools can connect caregivers and provide information and support.
Loop said that many local entities, for example, have respite programs that provide a few hours of free assistance so that the primary caregiver can run errands.
“An advantage of a podcast is you can listen to it in a car, put it on an iPod and walk around, and get a glimpse at all this information without having to go to a workshop or agency,” Stien said.
‘Little snowball effect’
Individuals are also using social media to push for their causes. Don Castellano-Hoyt, 71, of San Antonio, an AARP volunteer and former social worker, uses Twitter to express his concerns about Texas legislation, including issues such as transgender rights.
His wife, Julia Castellano-Hoyt, 76, worked for years as chief of staff for then-San Antonio Mayor Bill Thornton. She advocates in person and online for causes such as maintaining health coverage for those with preexisting conditions. She posts AARP content on her own page that is often reposted by friends.
“It’s like a little snowball effect. I wouldn’t say a giant snowball,” she said.
Loop said members have grown more comfortable on social media in recent years. AARP is hosting virtual events like a Facebook live chat at 10 a.m. on July 28 about San Antonio’s plan to become a more age-friendly community. To participate, go to facebook.com/aarptexas.
AARP also offers small workshops on social media and the use of devices to help members connect with family and friends, or to get involved in advocacy.
Loop said social media has allowed the organization to spread resources and information beyond its online followers, who often share articles on their own pages with friends.
“It makes it easier to get the word out, to amplify the content we care about, and is relevant to our members,” Loop said.
Laura Tillman is a writer living in Mexico City.