Asian American Resource Center Fosters Community for Older Adults During Stay-at-Home

Seniors encouraged to share family memories with online story project


Leila Grace Pandy (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Before the Asian American Resource Center was closed alongside the rest of the city's cultural centers in March, the AARC Senior Program was a community hub for Austin's Asian American Pacific Islander seniors. Now, in light of COVID-19 precautions, the center is empty, and its seniors have fewer options to connect.

Still, the AARC strives to foster virtual connection among its seniors through its new online community story initiative, called "Share Our Story." The project, which opened for submissions two weeks ago, asks older adults to share their favorite family memories.

The center's senior program typically drew around 50 visitors – most in their 70s – per day before the AARC's temporary closure, according to "Share Our Story" lead and AARC Culture and Arts Education Coordinator Leila Grace Pandy. Qualifying members (age 60 & up) could enjoy lunch socials, recreational and wellness activities, and continuing education classes, but the program's biggest draw was its community aspect.

"The senior program was born from hearing from seniors that they're isolated in their home and it's hard to build community when they are at home," said Eric Oeur, the AARC's marketing representative. "Over the past couple years, the popularity of the senior program has been a social space for many of these seniors to come together." So when the center closed and Austin hunkered down for "Stay Home, Work Safe" orders, the AARC had to brainstorm senior programming that they could not only get online quickly but that would also keep seniors engaged with the community, explained Pandy.

Every other week, the AARC will post a different topic alongside writing prompts for folks to reflect on for their submission. Pandy says participants may submit any format – a photo, video, or audio recording – though some kind of accompanying text is preferred, whether it's a short caption or a brief story. The current topic, for example, is "Family Recipes," with prompts being: "Have you made a favorite family recipe lately or attempted to make a childhood favorite? What was your experience like? How was your family's reaction?" Future topics include "Family Traditions," "Family Vacations," "Family Memories," and "Advice to Your Younger Self." Selected submissions will be shared via social media and on the AARC's website over the next few weeks. The project's goal, Pandy said, is to integrate the submissions into an AARC exhibit in 2021.

Oeur and Pandy hope the project will inspire both families and the community at large to connect intergenerationally with seniors. That goes both in the here-and-now and well beyond COVID-19. "Hopefully the writing prompts will serve as really great conversational touch points for families as they convene together online or within the home, and they keep these conversations going," said Pandy. "Seniors have such important life experience that has so much value to younger generations, to the community, and we just want to amplify their presence in the community."


Submit to “Share Our Story” via email at aarc@austintexas.gov and include “Share Our Story Submission” in the subject line. Submissions in any language are welcome.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Naked City, Asian American Resource Center, Asian American Pacific Islander seniors, COVID-19, AARC, Share Our Story, Leila Grace Pandy, Eric Oeur, coronavirus

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