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West Jordan Journal

Neighborhood House addresses loneliness and bridges the digital divide

Jun 06, 2023 01:45PM ● By Peri Kinder

Every day, Pennie Hopkins gets on a bus at her Riverton home and travels to Neighborhood House (1050 W. 500 South) in Salt Lake City. Her family suggested she visit the program that includes adult daytime care and activities as a way to make friends. Hopkins, age 70, went that first day and has been back every day for the last year.

Now, when a new person walks through the door, Hopkins goes over to introduce herself. She said she’s made many new friends. 

“I tell them that I was once in their shoes and that if they decide to stay and be involved, all they have to do is make new friends,” she said. “If they ever have any questions, no matter where they are in the room, if they raise their hand I will help them.”

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has called loneliness an “epidemic” in this country, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Neighborhood House is a solution to that epidemic as it brings children and older adults together to form meaningful bonds. 

Neighborhood House has been around for 129 years, providing affordable daycare for children and aging adults. As families struggle to move up the economic ladder, the nonprofit is there to provide a safe, interactive and engaging environment for people to flourish. 

“We're really here for that working family,” said Jennifer Nuttall, Neighborhood House executive director. “By providing these experiences and opportunities, we enrich and provide academic support for these kids to break out of that cycle of poverty. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got aging adults…we've had wonderful people here who are 101 years old.”

Neighborhood House is the definition of a “third place,” an additional site in the community that offers children and adults a safe location to spend time each day, after home, work and/or school. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” while exploring the importance of safe gathering places to promote engagement and value. 

Kids come to Neighborhood House before or after school and older adults can spend the entire day, interacting with each other and spending valuable time with the children. 

“We do intergenerational activities that bring those two populations together which are very unique,” Nuttall said. “It’s super cool to see how that benefits both the young people and the aging adults as they come together.”

When Nuttall described the area as a “digital desert” with little or no access to the internet, Comcast partnered with Neighborhood House to help bridge the digital divide for those in the organization’s programs. Comcast understands how limiting it is for students who don’t have access to a computer and reliable internet. 

“Any effort to connect individuals and families to the internet helps bring digital equity across the state, which is a major goal of Comcast,” said Deneiva Knight, external affairs director at Comcast. “Neighborhood House has an incredible track record of leading the way, and we are pleased to join resources to improve our communities.”

When Comcast stepped in to provide internet and laptop computers for the 300 families involved in the program, Nuttall was overjoyed. 

“Comcast has been a spectacular partner because they actually dig in and see what the real needs are,” she said. “Comcast provides for this community so we've got a computer center funded by Comcast. There are printers, there are computers, they can get online and do whatever they need to do.”

This year, Neighborhood House will launch additional community resources like a comprehensive wrap-around digital equity program—including digital literacy training—with additional funding from Comcast. 

At the end of each day, Hopkins takes the bus back to her home and eagerly awaits the next morning so she can return to Neighborhood House and meet up with her friends. 

“You can stay young as long as you get new friends,” she said. “I love talking about this program because I think everybody should be involved in a program like this. That's absolutely true. We need more of them.” λ