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Upper Valley Senior Center resuming some in-person activities

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2021 9:00:05 AM
Modified: 10/15/2021 4:19:13 PM

LEBANON — Ginny Minniear used to have a routine: She’d arrive at the Upper Valley Senior Center in the morning for chair exercise, volunteer for a couple of hours, eat lunch with other patrons and head home in the early afternoon.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and activities at the Lebanon-based senior center went virtual.

“I’ve been pretty much a hermit, basically just saying in,” the 74-year-old Lebanon resident said. “I’ve been reading a lot and watching TV and going to the doctor, but it’s been kind of lonely.”

That will change Monday when chair exercise resumes at the center, one of a handful of in-person programs making a return this month. The center has been physically closed for in-person activities since March 2020. There have been virtual and outdoor programs, but people miss being able to gather inside.

“(It) has taken a toll on so many people,” center director Jill Vahey said. “We’re hearing that the social isolation that’s happened with so many of us is just horrible for people.”

Registration is required for all programs, because staffers are limiting the number of participants to adhere to social distancing, Vahey said. All participants will be required to wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status.

Foot clinics and an eyesight support group have already started back up again. Chair exercise is back Monday and will run from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. It will be limited to six participants and if there is an increase in demand, more sessions may be added. A concert planned for Thursday is capped at a dozen attendees.

“We’re moving slowly,” Vahey said. “Having said that, if the numbers rise to a higher level we’ll not be able to offer these programs.”

There are plans to bring back some arts and crafts activities; staff have been sending out kits with home-delivered meals and during “grab and go” meal pickups. Congregate meals — where people gather side by side and share a meal together — are still a ways away.

In Canaan Village, the Mascoma Area Senior Center plans to start offering indoor social hours from 10 to 11 a.m. Fridays beginning Nov. 5, according to Kathleen Vasconcelos, director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, which operates eight senior centers in Grafton County. Reservations will be required for attendees; if the program proves popular, it will be expanded to other days of the week.

The Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon has gotten more calls from older adults who have concerns about their mental health, Vahey said. Due to a lack of volunteers, Meals on Wheels delivers only twice a week. On other days, staff members reach out to patrons to check in on them. Before the pandemic, meal deliveries took place Monday through Friday. Now, patrons receive two hot meals a week, with the rest frozen.

“When the pandemic hit most of my volunteers stopped volunteering,” Vahey said. People who used to come to the center for congregate meals signed up for home-delivered meals, adding to the workload.

It has been a challenge to recruit new volunteers, in part because of concerns about COVID-19.

“They’ll only go if someone has been vaccinated and we can’t ask that question, so that can be a deterrent for people who want to volunteer,” Vahey said, citing the center’s policy of not asking people for their vaccination status. “That’s so complicated.”

During the pandemic, Minniear would exercise by doing yardwork or walking on the Northern Rail Trail when the weather was favorable — summers were too hot and winter conditions could be dangerous. She missed chair exercise.

“It did actually help me,” she said. “I could feel it since they closed and didn’t have it anymore — my legs they softened up so it did actually help.”

Exercising alone didn’t produce the same results as the consistent one-hour program.

“It is motivating to be in a group, to be in class and if you don’t show up you know they’ll say ,‘Where were you?’ so that kind of keeps you going,” Minniear said. “It makes me get up and get dressed.”

Minniear did not participate in any virtual activities during the pandemic. She does not have a computer and initially wasn’t interested in getting one. While she used a computer for work years ago, the current technology is different than what she was used to.

“Now the technology is kind of beyond my realm of thinking,” she said.

Her daughter and a friend helped Minniear get to the grocery store. She kept in touch with friends over the phone or by text.

“It was little bit depressing to not go where you want to go and you have to think twice about where you can go, or if there’s going to be people who aren’t wearing masks,” she said.

The return to in-person activities is exciting, but also bittersweet because of the people who won’t be coming in.

“People have aged out, people have died from COVID,” Vahey said. “It’s sad to think that when we do open full capacity that a lot of the folks we saw a year and a half ago, we’re not going to see them again.”

Editor’s note: To sign up for chair exercise and other activities at the Upper Valley Senior Center, call 603-448-4213.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

Valley News

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