Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Baldwin Park residents had the opportunity to hear from authors, artists and local experts through the bimonthly Meet and Mingle program.
Although the virus has held many in-person meetings and interactions at bay since mid-March, losing that human connection was the last thing Baldwin Park Lifestyle Director Becca Schmidt wanted.
Cue the Lifestyle Learning Series, an extension of the Meet and Mingle program. With Meet and Mingle events, the goal is for residents to learn something new while simultaneously meeting and networking with others.
The social aspect, Schmidt says, is “the frosting on the cake.” So, she began to think about how to adapt virtually.
“People are hungry for content, new content that they’ve never been able to explore before,” Schmidt says. “Lifestyle Learning Series on Zoom gives people sort of a bite-sized opportunity to explore topics that they may not have thought about before.”
A silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic keeping more people at home is that connecting virtually provides more flexibility in program presentation. Coordinating a Zoom call versus coordinating an in-person event with refreshments and more is advantageous in the sense that the virtual call provides more accessibility.
“They can do it in their pajamas or over a glass of wine, and that’s what we’re hoping, that residents will have kind of a go-to (setup), similar to how people enjoy TED Talks,” Schmidt says. “It’s kind of our local version of a TED Talk.”
Topics of conversation and presentation often come organically, Schmidt says, because most people know at least one person who has a great story to tell.
“We look for local authors and local experts who are at the top of their field but also have comfort and presence on camera,” she says. “In the near future, we are looking for presenters who have some lifestyle-improvement content for residents. It might be just a better way to garden or how to start a butterfly garden or how to batch cook. The main thing I want people to know is I’m very interested in getting suggestions on what people want to hear about, and then I can do some of that research.”
For August’s Lifestyle Learning series — which will take place Aug. 13 and Aug. 26 — the guest speakers have their own areas of expertise.
Fernando Montalvo, the Aug. 13 speaker, is a McKnight Doctoral Fellow at the University of Central Florida’s Technology and Aging Lab.
“(He is a scientist) who brings brain study to a level that everybody can understand, appreciate and enjoy,” Schmidt says.
Montalvo will be teaching residents about aging effects and technological solutions to them.
“Given my background as a human-factors psychologist specializing in human-computer and human-robot interaction — especially in the context of loneliness — a large portion of my talk will focus on technology aimed at both improving social cognition among older adults and alleviating any negative effects from their changing social environment,” Montalvo says.
“I know people will really like his presentation, even if they had never thought before about the brain,” Schmidt says. “His specific area of the brain is socializing, so that is such a perfect mix for what we do with lifestyle because of the social element of these programs.”
According to Montalvo, aging affects social cognition in both positive and negative ways. His talk acknowledges this fact and ties in with his interest in human-robot and human-computer interactions. This includes smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.
“As a result of (aging) and other changes, our social environment and behavior changes, often in concerning ways,” Montalvo says. “But technological help is on the way. This talk will highlight socio-cognitive differences in aging and how technology can assist.”
The Aug. 26 speaker, Chef Collette Haw, will teach Baldwin Park residents some culinary techniques. Haw is a classically trained Culinary Institute of America graduate and runs the Nourish Coffee Bar and Kitchen at the Center for Health and Wellbeing in Winter Park. She also spent several years operating her own meal-delivery service, Collette’s Clean Eats, and as a private chef to a celebrity family in Atlanta.
“I’m a people person, so when I talk to people or have casual conversations just about food, I feel like a lot of people don’t really get the full flavor or experience out of the items that they’re cooking because maybe their technique is a little off,” Haw says. “I’ve learned that a lot of people say healthy cooking is kind of boring, but if you do these cooking techniques properly and you can sear chicken and aren’t afraid to get some color on it, you can elevate the flavor.
“Once people learn the basics, they get so much more inspired,” she says. “Then they start cooking so much more, and once they get the knack of learning to cook properly, they start getting excited about it and cooking a lot more and then getting creative. That’s what I like to see.”
For Haw — who grew up in a family that loved cooking — cooking is an expression of love. She says many people she has taught share the fruits of their new knowledge with friends and family. She looks forward to being part of the conversation.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of it, because … we’re not technically in Baldwin Park, but we’re your neighbors, and I love to get to know my community,” she says. “I’m excited to meet new faces — even though it’s via Zoom — and build relationships with our neighbors here.”
With Montalvo and Haw on board to meet virtually with residents this month and teach them new skills, Schmidt hopes participants feel connected to something they have an interest in — and to other Baldwin Park residents.
“Most likely, the people on these Zoom presentations will see one or two people that they already know and have the opportunity to say hello,” Schmidt says. “We might even form some subgroups. We may have some groups that decide they want to start meeting separately on a particular topic. It’s really interesting: A lot of that happens just after the fact, and I start getting emails that say, ‘How can I be in touch with your speaker?’ or, ‘How can I learn more about this?’ I’m hoping in the long run, I’m actually going to encourage some camaraderie and some friendships.”