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COA responds to pandemic demands

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

The Westwood Senior Center closed its doors in March as the pandemic was sweeping the nation. Since then, staff members have been trying to provide seniors with entertainment and assistance as they safely remain in their homes. The Westwood Council on Aging (COA) team has taken on the challenge with some gusto, ensuring that their work is at its usual high standard. 

“For two weeks, I was a deer in headlights, and anyone who went through what we went through would say that everybody was a deer in headlights,” explains Council on Aging Director Lina Arena-DeRosa. “After we cancelled everything, we said 'we’re starting from scratch.' So now, about 80 percent of our regular programs are either on cable or on Zoom. So the seniors, even though they are sheltering in place and even though we are not open to the public, our programs are still available to everyone.” Many of the exercise programs that are popular at the Westwood Senior Center are now available via Westwood Media Center on cable and YouTube, while others that may require participation are available during Zoom sessions. In the fall, seniors can expect to have drawing added to the repertoire of programs being offered virtually. Outreach is now done through phone calls to ensure the safety of everyone, while getting the seniors the services they need.

While the COA was able to transfer most activities to a virtual format, there are a few that could not be salvaged. “The sad thing is we can’t do day trips. All summer long, we always do day trips. Some of the special stuff that we usually do, like our barbecue, our tea, our beach party - we can’t do any of those, and that’s really hard. It breaks my heart that we had to cancel all the special programs,” explains Arena-DeRosa. While these summertime activities won’t be going on, the season has given staff time to prepare some fun activities for fall. Normal sessions referred to “Lunch and Learns,” are moving to cable. “Since we can’t do 'Lunch and Learns,' we’re going to do some special programming,” says Arena-DeRosa. The COA has lined up some informational interviews on scamming, shopping, and legal concerns that will provide watchers valuable information.

While COVID-19 has forced the COA staff to come up with new programs, it's also helped them invent some new ones, particularly when it comes to food delivery and helping seniors not feel isolated. With the help of HESSCO, the Westwood COA has continued its Meals-on-Wheels program. This week, the COA will begin its new “Book and a Bite,” program with the Westwood Public Library and HESSCO. On Thursdays, seniors (anyone 60 and older) that have books delivered by the library will receive a grab-and-go lunch. Each senior will receive a sandwich, chips, a salad, and a drink. “Another thing we’ve done is partner with Powisset Farm to bring fresh vegetables to our homebound seniors every Thursday,” says Arena-DeRosa. 

Some services have resumed, with proper precautions. Grocery shopping using the van service has started on a limited basis on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; signing up in advance is required. “We’re taking it very slowly to see how this all works out,” says Arena-DeRosa. The COA is hoping to resume taking seniors to medical appointments soon. 

The Westwood Council on Aging is doing its best to provide local seniors with the best care possible in the midst of a pandemic, and will be available to support seniors until life returns to normal. The Senior Center is staffed daily from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. When not at the Center, staff is working remotely to ensure everyone receives that care they need.

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