For the First Time, Again: N.H. Senior Centers Reopen For Classes And Conversation
When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Sylvia Stewart of Rye said she “just almost went crazy, because you couldn’t do anything.” One of the things she missed the most: visiting the Portsmouth Senior Activity Center, something she usually did several times a week.
“I missed seeing some of the people,” Stewart said. “I missed doing things, like the chair yoga. I would come to the meals several times a week.”
For most of the past year, COVID-driven closures at local senior centers left seniors like Stewart cut off from the conversation, activities and community those centers typically provide. And now that the centers are reopening, their loyal members are eager to make up for lost time.
“What's nice is that we see each other again as old friends, you know, old people, old friends,” Birgit Christiansen, of Portsmouth, said of the reunions. “We all sort of disappear in our own lives, and then here we are again at the senior center.”
Frank Rodgers, of Somersworth, has been going to the Dover Community Senior Center for yoga, exercise, German classes and more for over a decade. Now that it’s back open, he couldn’t wait to return.
“It's been kind of part of our life,” Rodgers said. “[My wife and I] come here as often as we can and really enjoy the people.”
While he’s thrilled to be able to visit again, things aren’t entirely back to normal. Rodgers said his favorite part of visiting the senior center was sitting in the kitchen and chatting with other members while drinking coffee. But that doesn’t happen as much these days.
“Often, when I come in here for a cup of coffee, I'm on my own,” he said.
John-Michael Albert, of Portsmouth, said that this sense of connection is part of what made senior centers so vital, long before the pandemic.
“Seniors tend to isolate themselves,” he said, “and they feel that it’s coming from outside of them, that they’re being isolated.”
Albert said having senior centers back open makes it a lot easier to “force yourself, like I do, to get the hell out of the house and go socialize with people, learn who all these people are, learn what their experiences are.”
Sue Skaggs, of Dover, said she missed lots of things about her local senior center during the pandemic, especially the friends and the trips. Without that last year, she said she “just felt so shut in.” But not anymore. She’s diving right back into a full slate of activities, including corn hole, cribbage and yoga.
Now, she said, it’s like “the whole world’s just opened up again!”
The recent reopenings have come at the perfect time for Jane Shouse, a self-identified senior center “newbie.”
“I was patiently waiting to turn 65 so I could start coming,” said Shouse, who lives in Portsmouth.
Now, she said, it’s been wonderful to try new activities and make new friends.
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