Ocean County has one of the highest senior populations in NJ and Toms River is in the heart of it. There are close to 100 adult living communities in Ocean County with 19 located in Toms River. According to Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey (CVCJ), nearly 40,000 Ocean County seniors are living alone with limited access to transportation.
In the early phases of our NJHI: Building a Culture of Health in NJ grant, the Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition held listening sessions to gather data and prioritize our community’s most serious health concerns. Throughout these listening sessions, seniors continually expressed loneliness as a barrier to positive health outcomes. As a result, we identified senior isolation as one of the biggest issues and the Senior Isolation Team was born. It is led by Lynette Whiteman, Executive Director of CVCJ, Dr. Teri Kubiel, Assistant Vice President, and Keri Britske, Community Outreach Manager, both from Community Medical Center. Together, they have launched the Senior Ambassador Training Program.
This pilot program in three senior communities in Toms River, is training older adults to serve as ambassadors to reduce their neighbors’ isolation and loneliness. The goal is to help seniors feel “welcomed back” into the greater community by creating a pathway for increased connections. Senior voices should be regarded as an integral part of the whole health of every community, including Toms River. We have begun training the first cohort of eight ambassadors. It is the hope that seniors will network, share resources and advocate for other senior stakeholders. The long-term goal is to significantly reduce senior isolation – encouraging a more fulfilling lifestyle and a healthier community.