After a year of paused programming, Jefferson Area Board for Aging has restarted in-person events for older residents at the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center, but it plans to continue virtual outreach even after the pandemic subsides.
“We were meeting with the Blue Ridge Health District weekly, discussing numbers,” said Crystal Donovan, coordinator for the online At Home with JABA initiative. “Once it got down to a certain level, and knowing that the vaccines were out, we decided to slowly open back up. We’re not back full force and just taking it a day at a time.”
Right now, in-person programming is twice a week, with one group meeting on Mondays and the other on Thursdays, and it took quite a bit of legwork to make it safe for seniors to meet in person.
The center has all the personal protection equipment it needs to protect staff and activity participants. Everyone wears masks and is spaced out six feet apart. The center has hand sanitizer on all the tables and cleaning supplies in the bathroom. Visitors and staff are expected to wipe down surfaces they come into contact with and clean everything at the end of the day, including the craft boxes containing art supplies.
The center offers selected programs such as arts and crafts, bingo, and Healthy Steps, an exercise program. There’s also a nurse on staff who is there two days a week to offer support to members.
“She’s able to talk with them about any of their concerns that they’re having with their health, take their blood pressure, talk with them about COVID,” Donovan said.
The members attending these events have expressed relief that they can attend in-person events again after a year of quarantining.
“When the pandemic hit, which required seniors to stay home, we had this enormous challenge of trying to alleviate the isolation we dealt with even before the pandemic,” said David McNair, marketing director for JABA.
One way the organization tried to combat feelings of isolation during quarantine was with the at-home program, which started in March 2020.
“The focus is to bring our seniors together, whether they are homebound or independently navigating the community,” Donovan said.
At Home with JABA has a little something for everyone to accommodate varying comfort levels with technology and levels of internet access.
“We have different methods of interaction, and we are able to reach seniors no matter their comfort level with technology or internet access,” Donovan said.
There are weekly conference calls members can dial into to participate in games such as bingo; a 20-page packet mailed out monthly that contains recipes, brain games, coloring pages, and puzzles; a Facebook group; an email newsletter; and video conference calls using Zoom.
“Our most popular program, of course, is bingo,” Donovan said. “We have pretty good group that calls in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at two o’clock to play.”
The senior center restarted in-person events temporarily in October 2020, but stopped when COVID-19 cases started to spike. Now, JABA is working with the health district to monitor cases and will reevaluate the safety of in-person events if cases spike again.