Virtual Senior Center

A.D. Penedo – Playwright

A.D., former lawyer and current playwright, has facilitated several classes for Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center (VSC) homebound seniors based on his knowledge and love of the theatre and writing. VSC class topics have included how writers select play themes, music and lyrics. It’s proven to be a wonderful and popular addition to our VSC curriculum of enlightening and engaging classes.

So how did an attorney become a playwright and how did he become a volunteer Facilitator for the VSC program?

A.D. was a Mergers and Acquisitions attorney for 25 years and never really enjoyed the work. His new career path started when his 9 year old son Marshall, who was gifted in the performing arts, asked his father to write a musical with him about the Loch Ness monster. As they worked they realized the story was pretty good and A.D. started researching how to write scenes and lyrics. Twenty years later he has an award winning musical comedy called “Who’s Your Baghdaddy” (or How I Started the Iraq War). Created in 2011 the play is an irreverent political satire that recently played in LA and currently is playing a limited run in NY at the Actor’s Temple. It received high acclaim and A.D. has produced several other plays among them “The Three Times She Knocked.”

Wanting to give back to the community, A.D. knew that his volunteering had to include working with seniors. His website search resulted in finding the Virtual Senior Center and he knew it would be a perfect fit as it combined his desire to work with seniors and some type of teaching. In his exact words the experience of facilitating classes has been “infinitely rewarding and a whole lot of fun – you try captivating a whole group of housebound, frail elderly people for an entire hour, make them laugh, see the wonder and gratitude in their eyes as they absorb stuff that had never occurred to them, and you’ll be as addicted as I am.”

Perfect example of a win-win! We’re so happy to have A.D.’s talents dedicated to the VSC program and hope you get to see his play “Who’s Your Baghdaddy” previewing Sept. 26, opening on Oct. 27 and running through Nov. 22 in NYC.




Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center Program:
Changing Lives…Every Day

“My whole life’s changed. I’m not shut out anymore. I’m part of something.”– Yetta, retired teacher, VSC Participant

The Virtual Senior Center makes it possible for homebound seniors to take part in intriguing live classes, world-famous museum-hosted tours, interact with peers on current events, chats with friends, enjoy yoga, learn wellness tips and discuss politics from their own homes. Through the program Selfhelp is rebuilding the social networks and lives of otherwise shut-in seniors.

The technology is as easy… just touch and join. And the results are transformative!

“People find hope again,” explains Leo Asen, Chief Innovation Officer, Selfhelp Community Services. “Their depression, anxiety and loneliness are reduced. With the support of the UJA-Federation of New York, the Consumer Electronics Association Foundation, AARP Foundation, Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and the Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Fund the program has expanded in New York City as well as select cities across the country. It’s exciting to see how our Virtual Senior Center can change lives in so many individual and meaningful ways,” he adds.

The program provides each homebound participant with a special purpose “all-in-one” touch screen device, which includes a unique interface that Selfhelp created to simplify and streamline the way that participants easily use the service to attend interactive, video-based classes. These small classes are a critical component of the program providing the intimate, face-to-face connection with peers, creating a new social network and enabling a new relationship with family. The service also provides a simplified access to Skype, links that serve as a spring board to exploring the Internet, email, and games.

"I really enjoy the music classes, history and all of the museum classes,” says Rose, who turned 90 earlier this year.
“For a while I felt like I had nobody…nothing!” Bruno explains candidly. “Especially after I had my stroke. Now I have lots to do and see, with people who really care.”

“These classes have made me a happier person,” explains 82-year-old Barbara. “My state of health has improved because of these experiences. “

"I look at the calendar before I go to sleep to see what programs are on the next day,” says Shirley. This program has enriched my life. I have friends I can talk with every day. " Her favorite classes include computer skills, museum exhibition discussions, current events and Jewish history.


“Trenton, known as T.J. for short, says he enjoys meeting new friends through the classes.
David enjoys interactive story-telling, yoga and computer skills training. “There’s always something new to try,” he adds.



Become a Facilitator

We are looking for volunteers to lead a class on a topic that they are passionate about. Our classes range from current events, music appreciation, history, tours of museum exhibits, laughter Yoga and more. All you need is a high-speed internet connection, a computer with a webcam, and the desire to make a major difference in someone’s life.

Jamie Ehrenthal, Certified Wellness Coach, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Nutrition Specialist, teaches a popular VSC yoga series.

"I'm really just so happy to be doing these classes, and wanted to thank you. The participants are so engaged and intelligent," Jessica, facilitator

As a potential facilitator, here are some specifics to keep in mind:

  • Classes are 45 minutes to one hour
  • Schedule: weekly, monthly, sporadic or short term series during the weekday, evening or weekend
  • Topics range across many disciplines – we can brainstorm!
  • Classes educate, entertain or provide discussions. Some are activity-based like the exercise classes.
  • All participants are seniors (70+!) and the volunteer facilitator and participants can see, hear and speak to each other in real time
  • The minimum age for facilitators is 18

“I feel like my life got a lot more meaningful today," says Elizabeth, art appreciation facilitator

Getting Started is Easy

I’d like to facilitate a class!
Please contact Carmella Chessen at: or 646-259-4987 for further information.

I want to learn more about Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center program in general:
Simply contact David Dring at or 212-971-7708.



Virtual Senior Center Launches in Nassau County

Virtual Senior Center, NassauWe are delighted to announce the official launch of the Long Island Virtual Senior Center – a new collaboration of the Selfhelp/Kimmel nonprofit partnership – and a high tech innovation designed to help reduce the crippling emotional and physical effects of social isolation among homebound seniors.

We owe the Long Island VSC’s speedy development to the tireless work of our Kimmel and Selfhelp team members, to a planning grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, a game-changing $100,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, and additional critical support from the Manhasset Community Fund and Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. (read the press release)

The UUCSR hosted our celebration which drew attendees from a wide range of community groups, elected officials, and our very own VSC participants who told the audience live on a giant screen, just what a difference the VSC has made in their lives.

Long Island’s very first VSC participant, Jamy Kanas Santoro, wowed the crowd in person with an articulate and heartfelt description of what the VSC means to her. “This has the potential to be a great, great thing,” she explained.“ I think it will actually save lives!” She also gave Howard Kimmel, Kimmel’s legendary founder, a personal demonstration of the VSC homepage and offered a rundown of her favorite classes.

We were fortunate so many of UUCSR’s leaders and members could attend. UUCSR President Nancy Chen Baldwin explained the criteria for qualifying for their Large Grants program. She added, “The grant to the Virtual Senior Center demonstrates our congregational commitment to improve the lives of those historically underserved. The VSC is a very creative way to respond to the needs of our elders -- so many who are homebound and alone.”

We were elated that so many elected officials turned out to see the VSC demonstration.

“This is an amazing, amazing accomplishment,” Judi Bosworth, Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, commented on the launch of the Selfhelp/Kimmel Virtual Senior Center. Supervisor Bosworth has long been a champion of technology to aid seniors. We look forward to working with her and others looking for effective ways to enable seniors to age in place with independence and dignity.

The initial curriculum of local live classes will be hosted by the Glen Cove Senior Center, the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills and the Magnolia Senior Center of Long Beach. The Long Island based seniors will have access to all VSC classes initiated by the NYC/Queens, Chicago, San Diego and Baltimore VSC partners, which offer classes on wellness, self-esteem, special events from the Guggenheim and MoMA, musical performances, current events discussions, computer skills classes and more.

Seniors’ residences are being outfitted with a touchscreen, VSC-enabled computer and assistive technology. Hardware is being installed, training provided and technical support made available so that the seniors can easily take part in live classes and connect with the Internet for a range of other options.

It was gratifying to see and even feel the excitement for the VSC – an idea that seems to attract and unite so many different groups with the common goal of making new chances, activities and friendships possible for homebound seniors everywhere.

[Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center has previously been awarded grants from AARP Foundation, the Consumer Electronics Association Foundation and UJA-Federation of New York.]



Historically speaking…
Here’s more about the origin and evolution of Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center

In 2010, Selfhelp launched the Virtual Senior Center program with the support of the New York City Department for the Aging, NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications and Microsoft as a mechanism to connect with and engage socially isolated, vulnerable, homebound elderly. It started with 6 vulnerable homebound elders. The program grew with support from UJA Federation of New York and then it grew again with the creation of the Dr. Frederick Coleman Virtual Music Program, which continues to provide engaging and arguably the most well received programming. Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center continues to grow and expand with support from AARP Foundation, the CEA Foundation, the Harry and Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Fund.

Who knows where the future will take us? We hope you’ll join us on this exciting journey!



For a look at what reporters are saying about Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center, here are some representative features and inspiring stories.

WNBC-TV, 4/4/2012, Melissa Russo, News 4 New York , “NY’s Innovative Senior Centers”
Click here to view video

Fall, 2013
click here to view video

Joining Senior Centers – Features story about seniors connecting through Virtual Senior Center to help youngsters learn how to read
Click here to read the story

FOX NEWS-TV John Shalam, Chairman of The Consumer Electronics Association Foundation, is interviewed about technology’s ability to aid homebound seniors, and the organization’s very first grant…which was awarded to Selfhelp”s Virtual Senior Center. July 13, 2012
Click here to view video.

WNBC-TV, 4/4/2012, Melissa Russo,  News 4 New York , “NY’s Innovative Senior Centers”
Click here to view video

WABC-TV, 4/3/2012, Sade Baderinwa,  Eyewitness News on 7
Click here to view video

Capital, 4/3/2012, “Bloomberg isn’t ready to release an emergency-response report, or let go of a dreamed-of 7 train to New Jersey,” Dan Rosenblum
Click here for article

Village Voice, 4/4/2012, “Mayor Bloomberg  Thinks Skype is Cool --Not Just For Young People!,” Sam Levin
Click here for article

Our Chinatown, 4/4/2012, “City’s Innovative Senior Center Opens,” Alex Peng
Click here for article

Times Ledger, 4/5/2012, “Bloomberg hears plea for help on Flushing senior center tour,” Rebecca Henely
Click here for article

Leading Edge, 4/5/2012, “New York Mayor Visits Selfhelp Senior Center,” Christopher Chase
Click here for article

Whom You, 1010 WINS Radio Transcript of  Mayor Bloomberg’s 4/8/2012 Broadcast
Click here for article

FOX News interviewed John Shalam, Chairman of The Consumer Electronics Association Foundation on July 17, 2012 regarding technology aiding homebound seniors and their grant to Selfhelp”s Virtual Senior Center program was mentioned. 
Click here to view video.

Click Here for More Articles on the Virtual Senior Center

Selfhelp Community Services, Inc., in conjunction with Microsoft Corporation and The City of New York are pleased to present the Virtual Senior Center, an innovative public-private partnership and demonstration project.  The Virtual Senior Center demonstrates how technology can be used in conjunction with senior centers to alleviate the isolation and loneliness of homebound seniors by enabling them to pursue active social lives.

View an experience of a Virtual Senior Center participant 

Update on Selfhelp's Virtual Senior Center

See Selfhelp's Virtual Senior Center on WNYE-TV. Click Here to See Video
“That’s So New York’s” Senior Correspondent Frank Lowe shows us how the internet is giving new life to homebound Senior Citizens facing social isolation. Selfhelp Community Services’ “Virtual Senior Center” (in partnership with Microsoft and the Dept. for the Aging) allows homebound Seniors to participate in activities like discussion groups and art classes using webcam technology, from the comfort of their own home.

Click below for video blogs and bios on the individual participants. 



Adele                                                   Read Adele's biography


See Adele's Video


Rose                                                     Read Rose's biography


See Rose's Video

Bruno                                                  Read Bruno's biography


Gloria                                                    Read Gloria's biography


Ethel                                                       Read Ethel's biography