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COA takes on COVID-19 challenges

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

For months, the Walpole Co-Operative Bank South Street Center has been closed to visitors. Programs have run strictly through Zoom. Ride services have shut down. But during these last few months, staff at the South Street Center has found new ways of communicating with seniors and ensuring that they are safe during this difficult time. 

It’s easy to say that staff at the South Street Center had to change almost every aspect of interacting with seniors and getting them the care they needed. “We got through all the initial closures. And then we found our way with virtual programming and telechecks with people we were concerned about. It changed the way we operated, and we reached a good place with that,” says Walpole Council on Aging’s Director Kerri McManama.

There were, of course, some challenges and some successes when it came to getting seniors and instructors on-board with Zoom and other technology. “We started ramping up all of our virtual things - Facebook and Zoom - and really getting our instructors on board to offer things in any way, and really went after a group that is really reluctant with technology, and we tried to get them into this virtual world,” says McManama. During the transition, COA staff became technology services, helping local seniors connect to their favorite classes and programs over Zoom and Facebook Live. 

Since starting the reopening process, the Walpole COA staff has taken advantage of the South Street Center’s large outdoor space to ensure proper social distancing for seniors - and provide a calm atmosphere. All in-person programs being offered at the South Street Center take place on the patio.  “We have this gorgeous patio that opens right into the woods to the rail trail that provides the perfect setting,” says McManama. The patio also provides the necessary space many senior centers are having trouble finding, ensuring that there’s enough room between each of the 12 allowed participants. “Everyone is 14 feet apart, which is based on Board of Health recommendations,” McManama says. 

Those who don’t feel comfortable coming to the South Street Center yet can still do some of their favorite activities from home. For now, McManama and COA staff are sticking to low-risk activities like yoga. “We’re not going to do Zumba; there’s a lot of movement with Zumba, a lot of heavy breathing and sweating. It’s a very aerobic exercise, so we’re offering it virtually,” she explains. Zumba is among the repertoire of programs being offered virtually each week. 

The COA has ensured that seniors without internet aren’t left out of activities by using cable. Along with activities taped for seniors, the COA has facilitated a new way to reach seniors. “A long-term goal was to start a cable show, and we have inadvertently stumbled into that because we offer this once a week, for about a half an hour or forty minutes, with a guest talking about their role in the community. We’ve had the police chief on. The Board of Health came on pretty early. We had the sheriff on. We’ve had some of our community providers,” says McManama. “It’s a cable show we had planned to do a couple years from now, but here we are.” 

For every area council on aging, it is crucial to ensure that seniors are receiving the best care, no matter what the situation. During COVID-19, that need has mushroomed. Staff at the South Street Center has taken on the challenge and succeeded in getting seniors not only necessary services, but activity, socialization, and technological knowledge. It's been eye-opening for both the COA and its clientele. Seniors can now Zoom and use Facebook, connecting them to the world like never before. For the staff at the South Street Center, challenges brought on by COVID-19 have given them the knowledge that no matter what they must face, they will come out the other side successfully.

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