AARP Launches Platform Empowering Neighbors to Assist Each Other during Pandemic

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This post is the latest in our “Commerce and Coronavirus” series. It will be an editorial focus for the month of April, and you can see the rest of the series here.

As one of the most powerful nonprofit organizations in the country, AARP has found a way to harness people young and older, including its membership of more than 38 million seniors, to find local solutions to a global pandemic. The organization recently launched an online platform that aggregates hyperlocal mutual aid groups to support people sheltering in place during Covid-19.

Built by the team at AARP Innovation Labs over the course of just a few weeks, the Community Connections mutual aid aggregation platform gives volunteers and people in need a place to connect. It features a searchable directory of local mutual aid organizations, which are typically informal groups that provide key daily services, such as picking up groceries and delivering medications to people who are at high risk for contracting Covid-19. People can access the platform to find volunteer groups nearby, with links to those groups’ websites and locator maps.

AARP has partnered on the project with Patch and Nextdoor, both longtime players in the hyperlocal space. The organization is also working with Mutual Aid Hub, a site built by Town Hall Project to facilitate connections and shared strategies in the mutual aid movement, as well as Facebook and Google for promotion.

“People [are] being told to shelter at home en masse, with many being particularly vulnerable to this virus, and unable to get the basics including food and medicine. It was really our duty to help in any way we could,” says Rick Robinson, vice president of innovation for AARP Innovation Labs. “AARP is doing so much at a macro level, and we in the Innovation Lab wanted to also serve people not just in neighborhoods but at the apartment complex level. When help requires people to physically move products to people in need, it’s by definition local or hyperlocal.”

While Community Connections was launched specifically in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the platform it’s built on is actually an adaptation of another tool AARP Innovation Labs had been developing. That product, dubbed Savo, was meant to bring friends and family together to support loved ones during difficult times. However, as the US outbreak worsened dramatically in March, discussions at Innovation Labs quickly turned to how to use technology to help those afflicted by the pandemic. That meant adapting existing technology, rather than building something new from the ground up, and the Savo product was repurposed to meet the needs of AARP members during the outbreak.

In the brief few weeks since Community Connections went live, AARP has already seen a quarter million sessions, with those visitors engaging with nearly 700 mutual aid groups around the country.

“It’s been so interesting to watch as, generally speaking, younger folks are doing a lot of the creating of groups, and many of those taking advantage of their work are of an older generation,” Robinson says. “It’s been really nice to see this rapidly unfold.”

AARP’s Community Connections product goes together with a companion service, called Friendly Voices, which is a free service that connects the elderly with hundreds of volunteers who’ve been trained in giving people support.

“Clearly, we all hope the reason for our site’s creation will go away as soon as possible, but I do see a sustained need for people to connect with one another and perhaps continue to need the kind of help we are directly and indirectly facilitating,” Robinson says. “Social isolation is its own epidemic … This epidemic contributes to so many health issues, particularly among those a bit older, and our AARP Community Connections product could certainly evolve to be an evergreen place to help fight this.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.