The Center for Living has reopened its doors to clients after being forced to close in March due to the COVID pandemic.
For more than six months, the benevolent nonprofit has served as an essential resource for Islanders age 55 and up, and has done so entirely remotely.
Using a Zoom platform, letters, phone calls, and at-home activity packs, the Center for Living was there for the Island community even when they couldn’t see their clients in person.
But now, executive director for the center Leslie Clapp said they are launching their in-person programming, and are excited to see their clients again after so long.
This doesn’t mean that remote options will go away — the center has seen virtual programming as an important addition to their conventional in-person resources.
“It took a little bit of doing and a bit of a learning curve, but most of our clients and their caregivers have been able to get themselves into our remote programs,” Clapp said. “We have been doing those four days a week since we had to close our doors.”
And according to Clapp, the center has constantly improved those alternative programs for folks in their homes, even though it’s not quite the same as seeing someone face-to-face (or maybe mask-to-mask).
“We love to see our clients in person, so obviously it is different. But as we move forward and get back to working in person, some people might not be able to come back into our building, or they might just not feel comfortable yet,” Clapp said. “And we understand that.”
That’s why both virtual and in-person programs will be offered simultaneously.
Clapp said the center has done a number of fun activities, such as ice cream social drive-throughs, and birthday parties in the parking lot, where older Islanders can participate, while still remaining safe and mitigating any spread of infection — they are even planning a Halloween event.
One thing Clapp said was surprising to her was just how adaptable and easygoing clients were with transitioning to Zoom programming. “Who said somebody that is 90 years old can’t figure out how to get online and do a Zoom call?” she said.
Before the center reopened, Clapp said, client outreach and input was a key factor in determining what the programs would look like. They sent out surveys to clients and asked them what they would be comfortable with, and built the programs from that knowledge. “We were pleasantly surprised to have so many of our clients listen to some of our ideas and say, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that,’ and were just so willing to jump in with us in this process,” she said.
According to Clapp, there is no shortage of folks who want to utilize the center and all its resources, and there is even a small waiting list for the in-person programs. “It’s really wonderful to see how happy people are to be out of their houses and back here with us,” she said.
One important element of the center is that it serves as a touchpoint for clients who may need additional support, whether it be food access or mental and cognitive health resources.
“We are always referring our clients to other groups, or someone who might call us to see the resources that are available in the community,” Clapp said. “These days, it is a little bit harder with COVID, but there is still a robust service network here on the Island.”
Clapp said she and the rest of the center are grateful to be in a place where they can operate in person safely, and are thankful that the Island community is doing what is necessary to stem the spread of infection.
The supportive day program supervisor for the center, Mary Holmes, said it is very important for people with cognitive impairments to interact and have social experiences with other people.
She said social isolation and loneliness impacts everyone’s health, both cognitive and physical.
“Isolation can be detrimental, especially for people who are living with dementia. They need interaction, they need that social connection. Sometimes people need to put away their crossword puzzles and have those experiences,” Holmes said. “It requires you to watch a person, focus on cues, and really exercise all kinds of cognitive skills.”
According to Holmes, not only are some caregivers and families telling her that some of their older family members are feeling blue because of isolation, but also that “there is some slippage in cognitive functioning because those faculties aren’t being exercised by social interaction.”
Holmes said the day programming is currently serving two different groups of seven clients for two days each week. The first group comes in on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second group meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Everyone who enters the building must submit to a COVID test, and must have a flu shot.
The remote programming will continue to complement the in-person resources, and expand service to those who feel more comfortable in their homes.
Holmes echoed Clapp’s sentiment regarding how fast elders were able to switch back and forth between programming. “It was pretty amazing to see how skillful our elders are, and how willing they are to be flexible and adapt to the situation,” Holmes said. “Right now, we are really keeping our ears to the ground and paying attention to what is happening off-Island, and locally as well — really just trying to be as safe as possible while we offer our services.”
To find out more about the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, visit mvcenter4living.org or call 508-939-9440.