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Virtual Senior Academy Connects Elderly Residents Across Pittsburgh

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
A group of seniors listen to Rev. Sally Jo Snyder lecture on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, one of the many programs offered through the Virtual Senior Academy.

Mobility is an issue for many senior citizens. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Virtual Senior Academy helps older Allegheny County residents learn and explore without traveling far from home.

During an academy class last week, more than a dozen people gathered at a senior center in Allentown to listen to Rev. Sally Jo Snyder lecture on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, which she presented from her North Side office. 

She described Tamer, a woman in the old testament whose husband died before she had children. 

"She rightfully should have, in that tradition, be able to have had an heir," Snyder explained. "So, she disguises herself as a prostitute and goes and seduces Judah."

All Virtual Senior Academy classes can be streamed online. Founded by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation last year, the courses are free to the nearly 800 participants. Some join classes from home, or gather at a community centers, like this one.

Shirley Eibesberger, age 80, lives less than a mile from the senior center in Allentown, and said she likes the convenience.

“I don’t have no ride, see,” said Eibesberger. “[The classes are] interesting, cause there’s a different subject every time.”

Other Virtual Senior Academy offerings include baking classes, sneak peeks of exhibits at the Andy Warhol Museum and a book club.

“You'll get people from all across the city, which is wonderful because oftentimes what we find is as people age they become hyperlocal. They stay in their neighborhoods,” said Mara Leff, the academy’s program director. "So this allows them to really branch out."

The program also deploys college students to help seniors set up the tech on their personal devices.

WESA receives funding from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.