In a digital age, Gulfport’s “Senior Chat Room” proves the timeless benefits of socializing in person.

While plenty of people enjoy their solitude, nobody likes to feel lonely. Social creatures by nature, loneliness goes against our very biology – and the comfort of a social group may literally save lives.

After years of owning a home care business where she would routinely check up on single and widowed aging adults, Carol Ehrenkranz witnessed the realities of loneliness – and says its effects are all too real.

I would see endless seniors who were nearly homebound because they had no one to experience life with,” she recalls. “I kept dreaming of giving them something to do to get out of the house – something to let them know they didn’t have to feel alone.”

With nothing but a plan and a prayer, Carol says she approached the Gulfport Senior Center and asked for support in hosting what she calls a Senior Chat Room. A play on the idea that modern society is evolving away from the face-to-face communication that defined socializing for previous generations, the Senior Chat Room was devised as a way to get people connected in person again.

My goal was just to get people engaged, really,” she explains. “Every week we meet for an hour or so and I bring a topic or an article to discuss, an or we just open the floor if someone needs support or advice.” Free to attend, the Senior Chat Room hosts about 15 people every Friday from 2 – 3:15 p.m., and the only requirement is an open mind.

Every week is different and exciting,” Carol shares. “We tell jokes, we share stories, we solve riddles, we even host birthday parties. It’s really just an hour to have fun and meet people you may have never met.”

Chat room attendee Eva Morison says she loves the intellectual stimulation the meeting offers. “Carol gives us brain teasers that really make us think, and we recently had Gulfport’s first Poet laureate speak at the group. It’s exciting to be challenged again,” she says.

Eva says she loves the face-to-face communication, and as a widow, the opportunity to make so many new friends. “It has definitely helped me get back out there because I really have fun when I go. I always leave feeling uplifted.” she shares. “It’s like having a whole room full of people who care about you.”

For a lucky few, the Senior Chat Room has led to more than just a friendship; but one final romance.

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Arda and Arlene fell in love at the Senior Chat Room.

Arda and Arlene’s love story was so precious,” Carol recalls. “Arda was 97 when he met 94 year old Arlene at the Chat Room. They really did fall in love, and spent every living moment together until he passed at 101. It’s amazing to think they met right here in our group.”

What originally seemed like a small way for Carol to help her little slice of the world has turned out to be so much more, as the chat room celebrates its sixth anniversary of bringing seniors together and creating community.

It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come,” says Carol.

Join the Senior Chat Room every Friday at 2 p.m., at the Gulfport Senior Center, located at 5501 27 Ave. S., in Gulfport. To learn more, email Carol Ehrenkranz at rentahand@yahoo.com.

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