The Virtual Center for Active Adults

February 23, 2023, Department, by Cristin Bratt

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A multi-jurisdictional partnership leverages shared resources to grow virtual programming opportunities for vulnerable populations

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shuttered local community centers in March 2020, Fairfax County, Virginia, immediately recognized the negative impact that isolation would have on older adults and persons with disabilities. By May 2020, it had partnered with ServiceSource Inc., — a nonprofit organization that uses a collaborative approach to facilitate services and provide resources to people with disabilities — to develop a variety of live, interactive Zoom programs. Led by the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, a collection of county agencies contributed programming and resources to create a space where adults could connect with peers, engage in a variety of activities and discover useful resources virtually. The Virtual Center for Active Adults (VCAA) launched in May 2020, featuring live and recorded videos and resources, from yoga to discussion groups to a weekly lunch bunch.

The VCAA’s most remarkable success isn’t in its formation; it is in its evolution. As the region emerged from the pandemic in spring 2022, staff began considering the VCAA’s future. Though many people were returning to in-person activities, VCAA participation remained constant; older adults and people with disabilities needed the convenience and safety offered by virtual activities. But with facilities reopened and COVID-19 restrictions easing, strained staff were now tasked with managing two sets of programs — virtual and in person. This challenge wasn't unique to Fairfax County. If the county wasn't alone in its need to stretch resources to present high-quality in-person and virtual programming, why should it be alone in the solution?

The Northern Virginia region excels at multi-district collaboration at all levels of government. Dozens of municipalities in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia coordinate and collaborate on everything from schools to transportation to parks. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is one of many organizations that connect thousands of local officials and experts to share information and develop solutions to the region’s major challenges.

As the world returned to in-person activities, this collaborative approach to governance proved to be the perfect solution to this new problem. Four other local Northern Virginia jurisdictions joined Fairfax County and ServiceSource Inc., to grow VCAA program offerings while reducing strain on each individual organization. As a result, rather than reduce virtual offerings, the expanded partnership team increased the frequency and variety of programs. Livestream programs now include art, exercise, dance, language, travel, nutrition, brain exercise, discussion groups and holiday celebrations.

“All of the VCAA partners share a common goal of improving the quality of life in our community,” says Lloyd Tucker, director of Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services. “I am proud that we’ve reached across city and county boundaries to create and sustain this new virtual gathering space. If our community isn’t limited by geographic boundaries, then our programming shouldn’t be either.”

The VCAA continues to be a place for adults to connect with peers, engage in activities and discover useful resources to combat isolation. To learn more about the VCAA and join the activities, please visit the VCAA website.

Cristin Bratt is Communications Director for Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services.