As COVID-19 continues to isolate many aging adults from their loved ones, Precinct 4 Encore has adapted to continue engaging with the local senior population through pandemic-friendly programming.

Formerly known as Precinct 4's Senior Adult Program, Precinct 4 Encore began in the early 1980s when the Harris County Commissioners Court voted to implement a bus program to provide educational and recreational transportation for adults age 50 and older. According to Jan Sexton, director of Precinct 4 Encore and Community Centers, the day trip program, which is funded in part by the nonprofit Fun4Seniors, was the first of its kind and remains unlike any other program in the U.S.

Four decades later, the program has expanded to include organized volunteer opportunities, educational classes and luncheons in addition to its signature day trip series.

"Today, Precinct 4 partners with over 400 groups including churches, civic associations, gardening clubs, and community service organizations who use the buses to travel to a variety of ongoing activities such as festivals, museums, plays, concerts, theatrical and sporting venues, and day trip destinations throughout Southeast Texas," Sexton said.

In addition to expanded programming, Precinct 4's Senior Adult Program rebranded as Precinct 4 Encore in May 2019. Sexton said the name change was meant to more accurately reflect the active lifestyles of the program's participants.

"Attitudes about aging are shifting as people over 50 seek to redefine what it means to age," Sexton said. "To modernize the Senior Adult Program, we've changed the name to Encore to fit this active and healthy population and to refrain [from] calling our participants anything other than adults. Along with the name change, we've also tailored our program to fit the busy and active lifestyles of our participants."

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Greater Houston area in mid-March, Sexton said Precinct 4 Encore had to cancel all in-person activities, including day trips and luncheons, to protect its participants—many of whom are more susceptible to COVID-19 due to age and other underlying conditions. However, Sexton said this has not stopped the program from keeping its adults actively engaged.

"Our team has adapted and brainstormed ways to remain engaged with our participants and still provide ways to keep them active and entertained," Sexton said. "We now host a variety of online and drive thru-programs."

One of those new online programs is a virtual trip series called Encore Excursions in which Precinct 4 Encore staff visits and films a destination in Southeast Texas that participants can watch from the safety and comfort of home. Sexton said the series airs on Precinct 4's Facebook page every Thursday at 10 a.m. and will continue until Precinct 4 Encore is able to safely host day trips again.

"We've also hosted some of our major events virtually, including our 19th Annual Precinct 4 Opry and our Tribute to Veterans," Sexton said. "We've been able to reach a wider audience and provide great entertainment virtually."

In addition to this programming, Sexton said Precinct 4 Encore has also been finding ways to address food insecurity and social isolation among its population. Sexton said the program has partnered with CrowdSource Rescue, the Houston Food Bank and The MET Church to help any individuals in need of food assistance.

"Through our ongoing care calls, Precinct 4 Encore staff makes routine phone calls to all of our participants to make sure their basic needs are being met," Sexton said. "We connect them to helpful resources and spend time talking to those in need of companionship. We also continue to meet the social isolation challenge with our new online and drive-thru programming."

Sexton said much like how Precinct 4 Encore has adapted to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the program will continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of its adult population.

"As the population of adults 50 and over grows and changes, [Precinct 4] Encore's programming will grow and develop as well," Sexton said. "We keep our eyes and ears tuned to those we serve and seek to assist them in any way possible. Their demand drives our current and future programming."

For more information about Precinct 4 Encore, click here or call 713-274-4050.

"The programming and activities that Precinct 4 Encore provides are always at little to no cost to its participants," Sexton said. "We encourage all adults 50 years of age and older to take advantage of the many life-enriching opportunities to continue to learn, volunteer, travel, explore and meet new friends."