WESTFIELD — “Scaling up operations” continues at the Westfield Senior Center, though the recent rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has Executive Director Tina Gorman re-checking her policies.
“The inside of the building is still very much in flux,” said Gorman, adding, “Putting it back together is proving to be quite the process.”
Gorman noted during the past 17 months the Noble Street building — and in particular the Great Room — resembled a “warehouse distribution center.”
“I wish I had taken pictures,” said Gorman, adding, “Those of us who spent the last 17 months in the building can now see a difference.”
Gorman said she and Mary Lou Niedzielski, program director, recently spent an afternoon with the director and assistant director of the Health Department to discuss COVID-19 concerns.
“We went room-to-room in order to establish safe and practical room capacities,” said Gorman. “One of the biggest concerns with the Delta variant is the high level of contagion.”
Gorman emphasized that physical distancing is imperative.
“As we reintroduce programs, we’re looking at splitting the most popular ones into multiple sessions, with fewer participants attending each,” she said.
While the weekday curbside lunch distribution in the parking lot has worked well during the past year, Gorman said there are changes expected in the coming weeks, including a “Curbside Cuisine” pilot program.
As a result of the ever-changing COVID environment, Gorman said it is important to stay flexible with schedules for programs and services.
“We can’t do everything all at once at this time,” said Gorman.
Gorman said beginning Sept. 1, “Curbside Cuisine” will be offered every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, with no indoor dining on those days. Congregate indoor dining will be offered on Thursdays, and no curbside meal will be offered on that day.
“We still have some seniors who are being cautious and not yet feeling comfortable about returning to the building, and we respect that,” she said.
Since the August Voice of Experience newsletter was just published and included new guidelines on indoor and curbside dining, those directives will remain in place until Sept. 1.
Gorman said a key word over the past year and a half has been “pivot.”
“One of the lessons we have learned during the pandemic is the importance of being as flexible and adaptable as possible,” said Gorman, noting that senior center directors across the state have met via Zoom every other week for 14 months.
“We have brainstormed, strategized and shared ideas and resources,” said Gorman. “As we all work with our individual city and town boards of health, mayors, town administrators and elected officials, it is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for scaling up operations.”
In recent weeks a few of the popular programs have resumed meeting inside the building, including Chair Yoga, Chess with Les, Sassy Stitchers Knit and Crochet Group, the Piecemakers Quilting Group, and the Art Unlimited Group.
They are following specific COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.
Elaine Lees, who facilitates the Art Unlimited Group, was elated to be back and sharing her artistic techniques with attendees. Participants are not required to have an art background to attend the classes, offered Thursdays from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Pre-registration is not required to attend the class.
“It is absolutely terrific to be back in class,” said Lees, adding, “I missed the class terribly.”
Lees said the fee is $5 per week and some supplies are provided.
“Some of the cost of the class is covered by a grant from Sarah Gillett Services for the Elderly Inc.,” said Lees.
Florence Berube, a newer member of the class, enjoys working with watercolors, acrylics and pencil.
“It’s great to be back,” she said, as she quickly set up her table and began working on one of her flower paintings.
Linda Lajoie shared a similar sentiment.
“It is encouraging that one day we will get back to normal,” said Lajoie.
Claire Bailey and Shelley Weber sat together and shared art supplies while working on the day’s project — drawing and painting gladiolus.
“It feels really good to be here,” said Bailey, with Weber adding, “It’s fantastic to be back.”
Lees said pre-pandemic she had 20 registered members of the Art Unlimited Group, and now she has 12.
“There is ample room to join the class right now,” said Lees.
For complete details on all of the classes offered, outside and indoors, as well as when popular features like the Game Room will reopen, seniors can visit the Westfield Council on Aging link on the city of Westfield website. More information on all programs and services is in the August Voice of Experience newsletter which is posted on the city’s website, or inquiries can be made weekdays by calling 413-562-6435.
Gorman reminds residents who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to consider their own safety and the safety of others by not entering the Westfield Senior Center.
“During the pandemic, please be cognizant of your own personal health and safety as well as that of others around you,” said Gorman, adding, “call the Senior Center if you need assistance with transportation to a local vaccine site.”