“There’s sort of this invisible population that, due to some of the structures that we’ve built — and internalized ageism — we don’t really see or want to see. As a health foundation, Metta Fund is interested in reducing social isolation and loneliness in the older adult population.” — Catherine Collen, Senior Program and Grants Officer at Metta Fund.
A longtime supporter and funder of CTN, Metta Fund is a private health foundation dedicated to San Francisco’s aging population and those furthest from access and opportunity. Taking a creative and holistic approach to equity in aging, Metta Fund works closely with both direct service and policy advocacy organizations to address the unique needs of older adults.
One of their primary focus areas is social connectedness — an increasingly important issue in a city where 31 percent of adults over age 65 live alone. Lacking social connectivity has damaging effects on one’s mental health, increasing chances of depression and anxiety. Yet it can also severely affect one’s physical well-being. According to the CDC, loneliness and poor social relations increase risks of early mortality, dementia, heart disease, and stroke.
In researching strategies to address social isolation among older adults, Metta Fund found that the digital divide further marginalizes those who are economically insecure and are without the skills and access to use the internet. Not only do the digitally unconnected miss out on essential resources and information, but they also have fewer outlets for socialization and communication. Metta Fund understands that the digital divide is both a public health and a social justice crisis.
Collen reflects: “I often say to people, ‘Could you imagine going through the day, without access to the internet, the information that you gather, and all the things that it brings you? Could you imagine how that would feel if you found yourself more and more marginalized from this digital world that could provide you with additional access to connection, engagement services, information in general?’”
While virtual activity is not a full replacement for in-person connection, it can serve as a valuable gateway towards further communication and socialization. The ultimate goal is that digital connectivity will equip and encourage older adults to get involved in their communities and discover new ways to connect.
Teaching older adults with no prior experience with technology how to navigate a tablet or computer can be a challenge. To ensure the success of each individual, it is necessary to provide individualized, empathy-driven training methods that do not intimidate the learner. Through Metta Fund’s support and funding, CTN strives to ensure that every older adult — regardless of their circumstances, language, or income level — has the skills necessary to remain connected and curious online.
“To me, CTN represents both technical expertise and a person-centered approach,” says Collen. “Metta Fund is focused on the people who are furthest from access and opportunity. We have a particular focus on low-income communities of color, many of whom are monolingual. We’re so delighted in CTN’s focus on language and providing information to older adults in the language that they have primary comfort with.”
Over the years, Metta Fund has supported CTN in creating new programs to support older adults. In 2017, Metta Fund helped us launch Tech Allies in partnership with Little Brothers Friends of The Elderly to train over 100 older learners.
In 2019, CTN received a grant from Metta Fund to support our Sunset Tech Connect program — and has since received a two-year grant to continue and expand the program. Metta Fund also provided a grant for CTN to participate in a new training cohort for their Evaluation & Learning program.
“We really feel proud to partner with CTN. There seems to be a lot of continuous learning going on as an organization, and I think that is reflective of how they work with participants,” says Collen. “The mission remains the same, but the tactics and the strategies have grown and expanded, and shifted. I think that is a testament to the great leadership and on-the-ground staff of CTN.”