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Stay Connected With Virtual Events in Wisconsin

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Nicholas Hoyt, of Racine, writes and produces audio dramas – including a murder mystery for last Halloween – that are based on old-fashioned radio shows, on behalf of AARP Wisconsin.
Photo by Lauren Justice

During the Great Depression, the still-new technology of radio helped unite Americans in a tumultuous era, with families gathering nightly to listen to music, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and audio dramas.

AARP Wisconsin has sought to foster that feeling of community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, using today’s technology to host virtual events that help people stay connected safely from a distance.

Taking cues from those long-ago radio shows, Racine actor and producer Nicholas Hoyt produced and directed a Halloween-themed murder mystery last fall, in collaboration with AARP Wisconsin. About 100 listeners tuned in to the audio-only production Lights Out! Murder Castle, via phone. 

Hoyt and his virtual troupe are working on a second Halloween production. 

“People can listen when they want,” Hoyt said. “Everyone is excited.” 

AARP Wisconsin’s shift to online offerings during the pandemic has sparked a positive response from members. And it may continue to hold virtual activities even after in-person events have safely resumed, though no decisions have yet been made.

“This might be the new world for a while,” said Amber Miller, AARP Wisconsin associate state director.  

Staffers have worked to provide diverse virtual options, from a Thursday talk show on its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel, to book clubs to AARP HomeFit presentations.  

Pre-COVID, many in-person events were held in large metro areas, making it hard for residents in more far-flung regions to participate. But the digital and phone events include everyone. 

Initially, staffers concentrated on streaming video and events via its website and YouTube channel, said AARP Wisconsin’s Darrin Wasniewski.

“We expanded our offerings and brought in Zoom, which seems to work well in our rural areas. And even if it doesn’t, there’s a dial-in option,” Wasniewski said. 

Topics have included retirement planning, decluttering your home and resources for family caregivers. The talks are free but may require registration.

Focus on work resources

AARP Wisconsin has also expanded its virtual events to include not just fun activities but practical programming, such as career and job-hunting support that helps participants expand their professional networks and improve their résumés. 

Shifting to online wasn’t a roadblock but an opportunity to try something new, Wasniewski said. 

AARP has partnered with Appleton-based Fox Valley Technical College on webinars for 50-plus individuals who are considering starting their own business, including how to weigh the potential benefits and risks of self-employment.

Annette DiZinno, 66, has long been aware of AARP Wisconsin’s resources as both a member and as a consultant at the Goodwill Workforce Connection Center, in Greendale, which helps connect job seekers to employers. Still, she was surprised at the scale of information available. 

AARP Wisconsin’s online job resources help members and also their families, DiZinno said.

Listen to the Halloween show at bit.ly/AARPWILightsOut; find other events at aarp.org/wi.

Joanne Cleaver is a writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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