Senior community centers may be closed but their staffs have not forgotten their members. Here is how four groups are staying connected:
“We care about our seniors. We’re very dedicated to them,” said Linda O’Brien, one of three recreation leaders at the Niskayuna Senior Center. “We began calling them in March. In the beginning the calls lasted about thirty minutes. Now they’re shorter calls.”
The center has about three hundred members of which about fifty percent come from Niskayuna and fifty percent from Schenectady and Rexford and none have reported getting the virus.
“They seem to be coping well but are feeling closed in. We’re encouraging walks, board games, puzzles, house projects, crocheting or even television,” said Robin McPartland, also a recreation leader at the center.
Beside the calls, the center sent out “hundreds” of postcards and birthday cards and began a weekly newsletter with entertainment, educational or wellness information. For those seniors who are tech savvy, the center put their exercise classes on Zoom and YouTube — a new venture that the women said they want to continue once the center is open.
The center has also always had a Tuesday and Thursday bus for meal deliveries but with that cancelled the bus driver has instead been grocery or pharmacy shopping for many of the seniors. They’ve also brought masks.
Eileen Pettis, the director at the Halfmoon Senior Center, has also made “a lot of calls.”
“I’ve made 550 calls since the center closed to update and make sure they’re OK and if they have any questions,” she said.
With members coming from six counties, Pettis was especially concerned about their food supplies. And to date, no one has contracted the virus.
“In the beginning a lot of seniors were not going out, so the town was delivering non-perishable food. We did an Easter dinner that was very popular,” she said. “But they wanted to talk. Many had their own networking especially those who were in senior housing. But a lot had no computers, so we had to call them. And since all calls to the center are transferred to my cellphone, I was available 24/7.”
The center does offer Zoom exercise classes on Tuesday and Thursday but many other classes were cancelled. Although most are coping well, wear masks when they go out and are enjoying such activities as quilting, baking, making masks, and doing puzzles, Pettis said they’re really missing being with their friends.
“We used to have so much going on here. There would be one hundred people,” she said. “They’re also missing their day trips, mahjong and their card games. It’s not the same taking classes online. There’s no interaction. But some of their kids are getting food and leaving it at their backdoor.”
Galway’s seniors have a different situation. There is no senior center per se, but rather they meet at the local Town Hall.
“We have a 66-person capacity at the town hall, but we have 110 members who come from Galway, Providence, Middle Grove, Charlton and Hagaman,” said Lizzie Feulner, the director.
To stay in touch, she has 11 volunteers who each took a list of 10 names and call them every other day.
“We were concerned because many were getting depressed. So we’d just chit-chat,” Feulner said. “We also worked to get them masks and hand sanitizer. And the Cock-n-Bull Restaurant delivered free meals to those who needed that little boost.”
They’ve also done drivethrus for hot dogs, ice cream, masks and sanitizer. But the members miss seeing people on the center’s trips, the lunches and Friday game day. Yet, so far, no one has reported getting the virus. But none of her seniors feel safe going on buses or being in crowds and she anticipates the center will be closed until September.
“We’re lucky. We live in a little town in the country, so we already have social distancing,” Feulner said with a laugh. “There’s no place like Galway — good people.”
Sue Leonard, the director at the Clifton Park Senior Community Center, might have been kept up at night wondering how to reach her 1,400 members. But no, she said.
“We reached out to all our senior members multiple times to ask if they were OK. Only the staff did that but we did that with the town,” Leonard said.
To date, three of her members have died from the virus.
Fortunately, she has 130 volunteers to help with all the other activities such as bringing the seniors to doctors for emergency concerns, getting them donated and purchased masks, puzzles and large print books. Not everyone uses a computer so volunteers have been providing instruction for them to learn.
The center maintains an active online presence through Zoom that includes numerous classes in tai chi, line dancing, yoga, how to play ukulele, and knitting/ crochet talks. Several online pre-recorded shows include town history, theater shows and even clogging lessons. The classes are led by the teachers who had taught when the center was open, Leonard said. There’s a monthly newsletter and a four-page informational/ funny email that is also sent out and many members are currently doing a puzzle challenge.
Seniors also benefited from meals prepared by the Ravenswood Restaurant who provided 1,000 free meals over six weeks. And at Mother’s Day, two hundred people got meals.
But people long to return.
“It’s always been a very busy place,” Leonard said. “We have 85 parking spots and they’re often filled with people having to park on the grass. We had 85 to 90 people playing bridge and multiple rooms of things going on. We had bochi and golf groups, and quilters. People consider this their second home. We’re anxious to get ready and already have established all kinds of protocols.”