Talk about "connecting." One of Engage's most impactful partner programs is Selfhelp Virtual Senior Center. In 2010, Selfhelp launched the Virtual Senior Center program with the support of the NYC Department for the Aging, NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and Microsoft as a way to connect with and engage isolated and vulnerable elderly. Selfhelp is rebuilding the social networks and lives of otherwise shut-in seniors. The depression, anxiety, and loneliness they often suffer is reduced through participation in the program. The Virtual Senior Center makes it possible for this community to take part in live classes, museum tours, interact with peers, learn wellness tips, and discuss politics from their own homes led by facilitator volunteers. One such facilitator is Deborah Brandt, who has been leading a class this year called Tai Chi Energy Exercises.

Deborah was a dancer and is a doctor of physical therapy, with an impressive career helping people. Most important for Selfhelp, she strives to make the participants feel comfortable, involved, and excited, establishing the foundation for a successful program.  

Every Tuesday at 11 am, a group of approximately seven individuals are engaged and empowered through Deborah's mastery and encouragement to move, relax, talk to each other and to her, challenge themselves, and have fun! Deborah focuses their energy by employing breathing/movement exercises and self-massage techniques from Tai Chi and Qigong. She calls it  “getting your chi moving.” 

“It's about trying, with a lot of improvisation and laughing; it’s not about success,” says Deborah. She notes that this is just one method she employs, while others are more structured based on her clients' needs. 

 Activities include "Virtual Catch," in which everyone gets to throw and catch a virtual ball, and rhythm games that require memory, thinking, and coordinating movements in time. Through technology, all the participants can see and hear each other. This builds a sense of connection, further reducing participants' sense of isolation. Although Deborah leads the sessions, she empowers her groups to provide input about what they'd like to do. She sometimes asks participants to teach their movement to the whole group, or to share another skill. Some participants jump right in and contribute, like one who entertained the group with a harmonica performance, while others prefer to follow her lead. Deborah has developed strategies to encourage everyone's proactive participation. 

As Deborah puts it, "These are a cool bunch of people, very adventurous, and lots of fun." Cool people she empowers to keep going, moving, laughing, and connecting. 
Would you like to become a Selfhelp facilitator?  It's a very rewarding way to use your passion and skills to enrich someone else's life...and you can do it all from your home! If you would like to become a facilitator, please contact Rabbi Brian Fink at