By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
In March of 2020, seniors centers around the country closed to protect residents and workers from the COVID-19 pandemic raging around the country. For over a year, councils on aging shifted their work as best they could, adopting online, phone-based, and on-the-go solutions to serve their communities.
Now, they’re shifting back to normal. Needham’s Center at the Heights has officially reopened.
The COA staff is ecstatic to see people congregating at the Center again. For Program Director Aicha Kelley of the Needham COA, picking a favorite aspect of the reopening isn't difficult. “Seeing everybody. Seeing that they fared through this. Definitely seeing them see each other," she explains. "It’s been awesome. The socialization part was a huge factor and just seeing people so happy to be back with their friends again; this is a home away from home for a lot of people.”
Many programs that were virtual during the pandemic will remain so or with a hybrid component. “[Seniors] realized they can do classes from the comfort of their own home. They can shut their video off if they don’t want to see other people working with them. We don’t have a space issue, so if someone has 60 people in their class, we don’t have to waitlist - anybody can take it,” explains Kelley.
As of now, lunches are still being delivered each day to residents of Needham. “Once our kitchen is rehabbed, we’ll have lunches here again. Food makes people gather, so I think we’ll have even more people,” says Kelley. Even without a regular meal, people are gathering in the Center's cafeteria to reunite with friends and discuss their lives.
Tom Gallant’s everyday routine includes the senior center. He comes nearly daily to socialize and run both his singing program and low-vision group. Gallant has missed seeing his Center at the Heights family, and their camaraderie. “You get to know them all; they’re like family,” says Gallant. With the center reopened, he is back to coming every day.
During the pandemic, the COA's transportation services delivered meals, groceries, games, and even gardening items to residents. Prior to the pandemic, transportation services provided around 70 rides per day. At the height of the pandemic, they were making 150 a day. “We’re in between the two right now. We’re reopened, so seniors are coming back, but we’re still delivering meals for people who do not feel comfortable coming into the Center,” explains volunteer and Transportation Program Coordinator Stephan Grably.
As the pandemic's commotion and stress are replaced by the excitement and optimism of a reopening world, the Center at the Heights is back to doing what it's always done best: welcoming and serving Needham's seniors.