Local Senior Centers Remote, but ActiveJun 16, 2020 03:03PM ● By J.D. O’Gara
Serving a population that’s at the highest risk for complications from Covid-19, local senior centers, including Franklin, Medway and Millis, have been working to adapt its services to the current “new normal.”
“What we’re finding is people are in the exact same spot as us,” says Courtney Riley, Director of the Medway Senior Center. “Many are trying to make do, and many of the seniors are almost better equipped to handle this than we were at the beginning. For many, they already have been retired or have been living on their own. Our seniors are great; They can adapt to anything. They’ve been through so much else in their lives, they can adapt. It’s the unknown now that’s the hardest part for everyone, and for the seniors as well.”
Riley says, “getting hard to say how do we slowly come back to whatever the new normal is going to be.” Senior centers have been shut down since March 16th, and it will likely be one of the slower types of facility to open, since it serves a population vulnerable to Covid-19 complications.
“The challenges are many,” says Karen Alves, Director of the Franklin Senior Center. “I do agree with Courtney. Folks, for the most part, are keeping a very positive attitude and trying to be upbeat about it and doing the best with what they’ve got. These folks have been through a lot, and are used to something adverse.”
Franklin, Medway and Millis Senior Centers are reaching out on at least a weekly basis to the most vulnerable of their seniors, and all of them have employed and are working to ramp up their virtual programming.
“Staff has been doing cold calls to reach out to our older residents,” says Patty Kayo, Director of the Millis Senior Center and we are still working on what other programs we can offer.” By Local Town Pages deadline, the Millis senior center had posted a few video classes online. “Seniors may access either our Facebook page (Millis Council on Aging) or the town’s website for the on-line exercises,” says Kayo.
Riley, too, says, “We also are putting our stuff online on the Facebook page and cable, but we have really partnered with all the departments in town (to help seniors). It’s not a one-person or one-department job. It’s a small town, and everyone knows everyone, and we all work together.” Riley worked with the Town to create a system whereby someone with compromised health can call the DPW and place an order for trash bags, which are then delivered, without a hand-hand cash transaction. She’s also worked with both the Medway Village and Mahan Circle food pantries, placing flyers in the food pantry bags.
“We want everyone, not just the seniors, to know we’re doing everything we can to support them. We’re still (helping people) fill out fuel assistance and snap forms.”
Riley particularly extolls the virtues of Julie Harrington, Medway’s Parks & Recreation Director, in creating engaging activities for town residents during this pandemic.
Riley says the challenge is how to make people feel independent and not isolated while in isolation, but that “my team has been unbelievable.”
Virtual programs Medway has posted include a balance video by Connections Physical Therapy. “We put things up a week at a time,” says Riley. “Little things you can do at home to make sure you’re still moving.”
Riley says she’s found many seniors to be quite connected to their neighbors. Some also show up and tap on the Medway Senior Center window, or just come to sit in the gazebo, six feet apart.
“They just go for walks out in their neighborhood, just to talk to the neighbors. It’s hard, but I have to say the seniors, at least in Medway, have been so resilient and incredible. It’s been amazing the outreach of people who want to help, and who are helping.” Many, she says, have been dropping off masks and asking if other seniors need anything. Riley says she steers would-be volunteers to donate to the food pantry and to contact Tri-Valley Elder Services in helping to deliver meals-on-wheels.
“As much as they’re appreciating the stuff we’re doing online or on cable, what people miss most is interaction,” says Riley. “In the past, they’ve been through hard times and found solace in each other, but now they can’t do that. We don’t want his to be the new normal. We don’t know what that looks like exactly but we do hope to have the building open and people socializing again, in some manner, but we will do it safely, but we are looking forward to when our doors open again.”
At the Franklin Senior Center, Director Karen Alves says that in addition to calling those they know are socially isolated, the center has been adding more activities to a Zoom format.
“We’re exploring virtual activities, meeting only by doing with Zoom. We’re doing a coffee hour, and our discussion group is working with Zoom.” There’s also a cardio exercise class through Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. with fitness instructor, Judith. If you are interested in joining that, contact [email protected].
Alves adds, “Our nurse is going to be doing her balance class on a video, and we have another staff person looking into programming with Zoom, and she’ll be working with Franklin TV.”
The Franklin Senior Center has been able to keep its low vision support group and hearing-impaired support groups going virtually as well, says Alves. “The coordinator for those programs has been doing virtual meetings and also conference calling,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to talk to more than one person, especially if you’ve been isolated for a while. It’s challenging to be able to meet the needs of people who aren’t online, but they’re, thankfully, for the most part, all online.” To take part, email [email protected]
For its Zoom meetings, Franklin Senior Center is asking people to call or email to take part.
At the press time, The Franklin Senior Center was looking
into doing curbside meals outside the senior center. “We’ve gotten some funding
from the Metrowest Health Foundation to help us for the meals. We’re trying to
offer them at a subsidized rate, and we’ll be doing a simple meal, probably a
choice of three or four sandwiches, some fruit a dessert and either a soda or a
milk. We’ll start with cold meals, and they’ll drive by. They’ll call us to
Alves stresses that the senior center will NOT take cash for the meals. “We’re asking people to send checks and are in the process of getting an online banking system and being able to take
credit cards. If someone can’t afford the meal at all, we will help with that, and if someone wants to pay more for than their meal, we’ll be happy to take that.” Alves says she anticipates this program running about six months. “It’s a way to get fresh prepared meals, and you don’t have to go to the grocery store as often.”
The population of patron to the Franklin Senior Center does vary, says Alves. “Some of our folks go to the grocery store all the time, and others are bopping around town taking walks. People have been great about donating masks, and we have gotten several calls from seniors looking for them. We also take cards and letters from students through the food pantry and neighbor brigade and distribute them to folks.
Franklin Senior Center’s 50+ Job Seeker’s program has also gone virtual through Zoom.
“That’s still going great with Zoom,” says Alves. “We’re having terrific attendance, and people can still sign up by emailing [email protected].”
Alves adds that isolation due to Covid-19 is also hard on caregivers. Supportive Day was very useful for caregivers, and so the Franklin Senior Center has begun a caregiver support group through Zoom.
To reach the Millis Senior Center, call (508) 376-7051; for the Medway Senior Center, call (508) 533-2310; for the Franklin Senior Center, call (508) 520-4945.