With a mask and vaccinated, but happy older adults return to their community centers

After more than two years of forced confinement due to the covid pandemic, older adults have begun to return to community centers where they once again have the opportunity to live with people of the same age as in those of the non-profit organization St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS).

All have gladly agreed to meet the requirements to return such as the use of masks, being vaccinated or presenting a negative covid test in the last 72 hours.

“I am very happy that they have reopened because I live alone and I really needed communication with my friends,” says Luz Escobar, a 92-year-old Salvadoran woman who visits the St Barnabas Senior Services community center for the elderly every day.

“It was horrible not coming during the pandemic. I felt very sad, ”she acknowledges.

Luz, a mother of 4, says that since retiring from her job cleaning and babysitting, she has found a haven in St. Barnabas.

“I like to come because they give us food, we exercise and we have many activities with friends; and among ourselves, we tell each other our problems”.

Luz Aguilar happy to return to St. Barnabas Senior Services Community Center. (Araceli Martínez / La Opinion)

reopening in person

Last month, the three community centers of St Barnabas Senior Services welcomed older adults who were eager to return after more than two years of closure due to the health crisis caused by covid-19.

Darlene Kiyan, director of St Barnabas, said that while they were unable to offer services in person, during the pandemic, they did not stop providing assistance to older adults.

“We send food directly to their homes, and we support them in what they need through the phone, zoom and meetings. Now we have been able to open our three centers in Mid-City, Hollywood and Echo Park for them to return; and starting next time, we are very excited because we will be able to serve you hot food again”.

The three St. Barnabas Senior Centers are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a wide variety of activities such as exercise, mental health and fitness classes. technology, but they also have time for entertainment with hours to play games, watch movies and TV series as a group.

“We have expanded our classes to teach them technology on how to use their phones, their iPads and the computer.”

He specifies that within the exercises, they teach them how to prevent falls at home. “We can offer them support to put up bars and mats so that their houses are safer and they don’t fall.”

Venus Smith learns how to use social media at the St. Barnabas Senior Services Community Center. (Araceli Martínez / La Opinion)

Dr. Kiyan says that the older adults have been happy to return because they felt so isolated at home and missed their friends.

“It’s okay to communicate on the phone with friends, but it’s different than seeing each other in person. Now that they have returned. They have told us what classes they want.”

He comments that they had initially planned to reopen in December or January, but for safety reasons, the reopening was postponed.

“Now that Los Angeles County has cleared us to open, we still want to make sure adults are safe.”

Therefore, they have put in place various protection measures against covid.

“We are asking everyone to be vaccinated or present a negative covid test. We have exams here for those who Y still have to wear masks when they come. We know that in many places it is optional, but it is not here because we have a vulnerable community.”

He says they were worried at first that they wouldn’t want to wear masks or get vaccinated. But all have responded positively.

“They told us that of course they were willing to comply with the rules because they wanted to go back and feel safe; and most have complied.

Darlene Kiyan, the new director of St. Barnabas Senior Services. (Araceli Martínez / La Opinion)

The benefits of living together

The director of St Barnabas maintains that the main benefit of the return of older adults to community day centers is socialization.

“That’s the biggest thing, but at the same time, they have access to in-person services and classes. During the pandemic, they took chair yoga classes, but it is not the same because in the face-to-face class, they can correct them so that they do the correct positions.”

He says that the return of older adults has been gradual, as word spreads that they have already reopened.

“We have free transportation from home to our centers for those who can’t take a bus to come. We take them and bring them; and we can also transport them to their doctor appointments or if they need to buy something.”

It specifies that older adults do not need to have immigration status or health insurance to attend the St. Barnabas centers.

Our primary goal is for them to age well, and we have all the resources, including food, to make sure that happens.”.

He adds that the return of older adults to their community centers helps them stay active, live with other people, make them feel that they are part of the community and that they are not limited to being at home.

Councilman Gil Cedillo during the reopening of the St. Barnabas Senior Services centers. (Courtesy SBSS)

aftermath of covid

It shows that COVID-9 has caused many financial problems for older adults, and many of them are on the verge of becoming homeless or are already homeless.

“When they come, they talk to us and we find a way to help them pay the rent. We also have people who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, who we also assist by providing caregivers.”

So a side benefit of going to the St. Barnabas center is not only socialization but they learn, they are entertained; and by sharing their problems, they are assisted.

“Our service coordinators go to their homes and talk to them.”

Civics class learning the meaning of 5 de Mayo at SBSS. (SBSS/courtesy)

Mental health

He adds that another of the great problems that came to the fore during the pandemic was the mental health of older adults.

“The last two years have been very challenging. People have suffered a lot of loss, a lot of fear and trauma.”

It indicates that they have also lost many of the older adults who attended the St Barnabas center during covid. “Others have moved with their families to be close to them.”

But aside from the problems, external that the energy that is breathed after the reopening of the center is amazing. “You can hear and see. It is fun. We just want to make sure that more older adults know about our activities so that they are healthy and happy.”

happy to return

Guatemalan Venus Smith, a mother of two daughters, about to turn 79, also did not hide how happy she was to return to St Barnabas.

“I like to come, in the first place, because I can share with my colleagues and the staff of the center, they are always seeing what needs we have.”

She admits that at home she felt very depressed, even more so in the most critical moments of the pandemic.

Another of the things that he enjoys the most is the technology classes because – he says – they teach him to use the cell phone and social networks.

Nelly Palma, a 72-year-old Peruvian, had been going to St Barnabas for 5 years, when she saw the center close due to the pandemic.

“I was very sorry because it has helped me a lot. Before coming here, I was depressed at home.”

She adds that since she lives alone, it is a great thing for her to go to St. Barnabas.

“I love the exercises that they give us, and talking with friends about one subject or another. Coming here helps us clear our minds, and we return home happy.”

Juana Rajendra, a 78-year-old Bolivian, is also happy about the reopening. “My daughter told me that they were going to reopen, and the news made my day. I like to come here to exercise, paint and all the activities they give us access to.”

The 75-year-old Mexican Carmen Reyes, mother of a daughter, says that during the pandemic she was locked up and angry in her apartment, by herself.

“We felt very bad. Blessed God it seems that the pandemic is already improving.

Therefore, she assures that it was crucial for her to return to St. Barnabas.

“I really like talking to people. If they don’t talk to me, I talk to people. I need socialization and coexistence in my life. So coming back to my friends’ side is a great pleasure.”

St. Barnabas Senior Services is located at 675 S. Carondelet St. Los Angeles, CA. 90057. Phone: 213-388-4444.