After being shuttered for the worst of the pandemic because of COVID’s devastating effects on the population of aging Americans, Mabel Kay Senior Center saw a soft rollout of daily events at its clubhouse this spring.
But the real comeback occurred on Sept. 18. Under clear blue skies and temperatures reminiscent of spring, the community touchstone hosted a senior picnic in its backyard. The two-hour respite served as official notice that residents who want daytime activities that provide mental and physical exercise, as well as socialization, could once again return to the little house on the other side of the Acme.
Sheri Siegel, who was hired as center coordinator in March to succeed Nancy McCrudden, had her work cut out for her in a world that ran largely on laptop time.
“Everything was done on Zoom. The center wasn’t open yet. So the first couple months was me doing (public relations) outreach,” she noted. “One of the things that was put on me was to use the closure to rethink and strategize what happens here, try to do more than just bingo and bridge, to liven it up more, and get the word out.”
None of that could have been accomplished without McCrudden’s patient ear, which Siegel admitted she used often. Having departed late in 2020, Siegel’s predecessor was luckily available by phone. She recalled many one-hour phone sessions that provided a foundation and guidance for what was to come.
“I’m at a point right now where I really haven’t been contacting her that much,” Siegel happily added.
In late July, she began to announce a slate of daily and weekly events to once again establish a routine and let residents know that the Walnut Street location was open. Games like mah-jongg and bridge and exercise classes were already on the slate before the shutdown, but to expand the palette of activities, Siegel had to solicit opinions directly from her base.
She formulated an online survey to all the seniors she could find, reaching all borough houses of worship and the library. That way, Siegel also built up a database of contact information in addition to an aggregate of what may ignite interest.
“Technology help is a big one,” Siegel said. “I had a feeling we would need to be teaching Zoom and Facebook and to help people stay in touch with their grandkids.”
According to Siegel, the organization isn’t just looking to retain its connection to older residents. She’s trying to branch out and attract those at the tail end of the Boomer generation — people 55 and over who find themselves on the cusp of retirement but are more active in their daily lives.
“I guess the common thought is that senior centers are just for ‘old’ people, but we are trying to infuse some activities for the younger seniors as well,” Siegel admitted.
Plans are to conduct cultural outings once COVID eases, engage in more volunteering opportunities, and kick off a book club in the near future. The club is open five days a week, though for now still limited to the hours in which a given activity is scheduled.
“I feel like the summer was a time when we were slowly opening, besides the COVID part of it, it’s hot and people are away,” Siegel revealed. “It makes sense where September was (when we’d have) full launch.”
Siegel, along with seven members of the Haddonfield Memorial High School LEO Club, helped set up, cook, then distribute drinks and meals to seniors, who sat comfortably and enjoyed the warm open air, acoustic music, conversation, and the presence of others for the first time in a long time. They watched with curiosity and delight as the young women, along with two members of borough politics, attempted to set personal rotation records with hula hoops.
Residents and local businesses donated raffle items and gift cards as well. On the list: a 50-minute Pilates session, a Waterpik electric toothbrush, and gift cards for Cherry Hill’s Nothing Bundt Cakes.
To find out about what classes are currently offered or to discuss any other activities the borough’s older population may be interested in, contact Siegel at: email@example.com or by phone at: (856) 354-8789.