AJA50+ program celebrates 20th anniversary

Coming off a strong two years of COVID-era connections, the ‘Creative Connections’ program associated with AJA (Active Jewish Adults) 50+ is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. 

While AJA 50+ has been around for about 22 years, the Creative Connections program is a “group within a group,” as Hannah Bernstein explains. 

“They wanted to create a program that was targeted mostly toward the more senior cohort, a day program that included activities and lunch and afternoon programs,” said Bernstein, the AJA 50+ president. “It’s been going strong since 2002.” 

Prior to the pandemic, there were approximately 25 people meeting regularly at the Soloway JCC. 

“We were able to not just survive, but thrive on Zoom during COVID,” said Bernstein. “We had about 40 people attending online — and considering the age of the cohort, it’s a huge welcome!” 

AJA 50+ received enough funding for seven Chromebooks to help its members get online — some of whom had never been on the internet or used email before. 

“It was surprisingly simple to teach them,” said director Sheila Osterer. “They were so attentive and keen. Maybe they had some foresight in needing to learn these skills … It was like they knew it would be 2.5 years!”

Bernstein said in planning for the fall they’ve built multiple contingencies into place. 

“You don’t know what the pandemic situation is going to be next week,” said Bernstein, adding that they’re being especially cautious due to the demographic targeted. “But we wanted some solid plans in place, so now we’ll be doing hybrid programming. We used some government funds to be able to do both with new technology.” AJA 50+ is also supported by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, and Creative Connections has received an additional Federation grant that has helped to maintain the program.  

During the pandemic, Creative Connections traveled the world — virtually — even hiring tour guides to show them the sights. 

“We’ve toured museums and galleries, had talks on art and food and music,” said Bernstein. “But the most important aspect of what we’ve been able to do is connect this demographic with their friends and peers on a weekly basis.”

Bernstein said AJA 50+ and Creative Connections are “hugely important” for the community. 

“Seniors are a huge niche in our society and the senior demographic is the fastest growing one in our society,” she said. “AJA and Creative Connections provide programs for seniors by seniors — we know what we like!”

They’ve slowly been pivoting back to be more in-person over the last few months, with ping pong, chess, and Scrabble programs back in person at the SJCC. Over the summer they also did a number of outdoor activities including hikes, berry picking, and heritage architecture tours. 

“We’ve been dipping our toes into the water,” said Bernstein. “The response to returning in person has been positive. When we surveyed our folks last spring, almost all of them couldn’t wait to come back.”

During the pandemic, Creative Connections welcomed residents from Hillel Lodge and Tamir to attend virtually, and are working with those organizations, as well as with Jewish Family Services, to ensure they can continue to participate in person as well.

For the 20th anniversary of Creative Connections, an in-person celebration after the holidays is in the works — but you don’t have to wait until then to check out the programs if you’ve already turned 50. 

“This is a thriving, vibrant organization. We welcome Jewish and non-Jewish members alike,” said Bernstein. “There’s something for everybody. Join us!” 

Learn more about AJA 50+ and Creative Connections at https://aja50plus.ca/