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WAMC News Series: Seniors can again socialize as the holidays approach

Stella Galloni, in costume, prepares for a game of bingo at a Halloween party at the Raymond A Jordan Senior Center.
Paul Tuthill
Stella Galloni, in costume, prepares for a game of bingo at a Halloween party at the Raymond A Jordan Senior Center.

In-person activities resume at senior centers

After 18 months of drive-in games, pass-by parades, at-home arts and crafts projects, and Zoom fitness classes, the senior center in Springfield, Massachusetts fully reopened in early October. It affords seniors a chance once again to come together with traditional holiday-themed activities on the calendar.

It’s late October and a Halloween party bingo game is taking place in the dining room at the Raymond A Jordan Senior Center.

The players are sitting four to a table, which are spaced six-feet apart.

Of the 50 or so seniors here today, just a few came in costume. Stella Galloni dressed as a queen in a purple robe with gold and white trim and a tiara on her head.

“Well, this is my first trip back and I'm very glad to be here,” she said. “It's such a lovely place. And we've had some good times here. And I hope we have some in the future.”

A year ago, Beverly Shelton was sitting in her car in the parking lot outside the senior center and saying she was sad it had to close because of the pandemic.

“I really miss this place,” she said then.

Now the 72-year-old city resident is back among friends at the Halloween party and said she has returned to her regular routine of visiting the senior center two or three times a week.

“I'm happy that it’s reopened,” she said. “At least there is an effort to try and keep the seniors with something to do places to go.”

Another regular visitor to the senior center, Eveline Malboeus, said she knows people who remain hesitant about being in close contact with others.

“A lot of people I do know are home watching TV and vegetating, while here you can play a game, and you can socialize, which is very important for people our age,” she said.

Sandy Federico, Director of Elder Affairs for the city of Springfield, confirms that seniors have been slow to return for the in-person activities.

“So they are holding off, they're watching the numbers, they're listening to the news,” Federico said. “We've been calling folks that we haven't seen that we were seeing on a regular basis to make sure that they're okay, and to see if there's any services we can provide to ease them through this kind of an in between period. And then there are others that are so happy that we're open that they've come right back and they've come every day since. The desire to be here and to be with others is the most powerful motivator.”

Mask-wearing is recommended and the center is following a full set of public health protocols.

“Like most businesses that are open, we are cleaning thoroughly,” Federico said. “All throughout the day, we wipe every surface. And we cleaned a deep cleaning every night and early in the morning as well. So we're doing what needs to be done. And if they have any questions, I would urge folks to call and ask specifically what their concerns are so we can try to address them, and I hope they'll come back when they're ready.”

A full schedule of events was planned for November and December with themes involving thankfulness and giving. Every activity has a purpose, said Federico.

“It's healthy and important for the seniors to find a safe place where they can express how they're feeling and know that others are feeling the same way,” she said. “Before they were stuck at home. Now they get to share and we get to say ‘you know it's okay, it's okay to be sad, it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling’.”

When it comes to the Halloween party bingo it’s not about the costumes, or winning a prize, it’s about the camaraderie said 74-year-old Irving Rubinfeld.

“Here is like a second home to me,” he said. “Everybody in here is either a brother or sister to me.”

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.