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Greenwich seniors stay active and engaged 

Greenwich is a wonderful place to live and to move through the phases of life – for its wealth of amenities, parks and recreational venues, local landmarks, religious organizations, and cultural institutions. As Greenwich residents age, they are also afforded some invaluable opportunities to stay connected, informed and active.

Managed by the Greenwich Commission on Aging, the Greenwich Senior Center – located at 299 Greenwich Avenue – is where residents (62+) make and maintain friendships, engage in social, learning and religious activities, enjoy a meal with fellow members, and access a variety of health and fitness services. The Senior Center is typically open to members Monday to Friday, from 9:00am to 4:00pm.; however, the COVID-19 pandemic requires the Center to remain closed at this time.

Lori Contadino is the director for the Greenwich Commission on Aging, and she took time out to share some suggestions and updates on the challenges that our senior community faces now and into the future.

“We’ve made a commitment to enhancing the quality of life for older residents, through planning, coordination, outreach, education and more,” she explained. “The biggest challenge right now is social distancing. That is something that impacts individuals of all ages, and especially our older members of the community. It is very isolating, especially if they live alone. We, as humans, need to connect with other human beings on a regular basis – daily, if possible.

“We don’t want our members to become isolated or disconnected, because know how harmful social isolation can be,” she added. 

The Greenwich Commission on Aging’s (GCOA) membership represents thousands of members and potential members. The Commission estimates that there are 6,700 residents across Greenwich who are 70 years old and up. To continue to serve the community during this challenging time, the Commission and the staff at the Senior Center have implemented a few new programs that are proving quite popular. In partnership with the Greenwich Country Day School’s faculty, the GCOA now hosts a variety of classes and networking events using Zoom as its digital platform. The program is called “CONNECTT,” and it enables members to participate in these events via video on a computer, tablet, laptop or smartphone, or by way of a simple telephone dial-in. 

“What’s happened because of this program is such a beautiful thing,” Contadino said. “When we launched it a couple of weeks ago, it was the first time in weeks that our members were able to see the faces of their friends and other folks that are new. It helps them to establish a new network of contacts and friends. 

“Our partnership with Greenwich Country Day School is an expansion of the relationship we already had,” the director continued. “They’ve taught intergenerational technology courses for us, on site at the senior center. This is just a new way to work with the faculty.”

Leveraging technology, the GCOA is able to roll out classes in technology and other topics, as well as popular fitness classes – Zumba, Tai Chi, and Pilates, for example. They’ve already hosted a “Saturday night dance party,” and plan an upcoming magic show for the entire Greenwich community beyond its membership. 

The CONNECTT program is a welcome way to safely socialize and learn new things, but it also gives seniors some structure to their days – also important to their health and well-being. 

“We need to establish new routines, and this creates a framework for people who aren’t used to being in their homes every day,” Contadino explained. “I know, even for myself, it doesn’t feel like a weekend when it comes around, because every day starts to feel the same. Developing a structure, having a routine, getting up and getting yourself dress and ready, knowing that you’re going to see other people and talk to others? It’s all good – good on many fronts.”

The GCOA also created the “Bridging Generations” program in cooperation with Greenwich High School and a new participant, Brunswick School. As its name implies, the program matches high-school students with local seniors who’ve opted in to receive phone calls from their young friends. 

“The seniors have a lost a great deal during this time, but so have the students, who no longer have afterschool, recreation, and peer-group activities,” the GCOA director noted. “With the administration at the schools, who have been super supportive, we thought: How wonderful it would be if we could connect these two groups!” 

The phone calls are social in nature – even if it’s just a simple call to inquire, “How was your day?” If at any time the student detects a reason for concern, Contadino and her staff can follow up. 

“We have a 102-year-old retired school teacher who’s a participant in the Bridging Generations program, and she requested that her student-friend reach out to her on Facebook, because her hearing isn’t great and wants to see the face and read lips a little. It’s been such a beautiful pairing. We have other folks who don’t have any family at all, and they might receive calls from a GHS student, a GCOA staff member and from a Brunswick student. That way, they have three calls coming in during the week, just to talk. Our hope is that these are meaningful relationships that could last a very long time, far longer than COVID-19,” she said. “Everyone needs that sense of connection and being part of a community. We need a network that we can reach out to. It’s really important.”

That became evident when after the senior center was forced to close out of an abundance of caution and members were informed about the program, the GCOA office phone began to “ring off the wall.” 

“Seniors thought that we needed a phone call, so they were calling to check on us. It was amazing, and reminder that we need them as much as they need us,” she said. “There are a lot of really beautiful things to come out of this really bad situation.” 

Helping seniors stay connected and active has already had some important byproducts. For example, older residents who have been technologically reluctant are embracing new ways to communicate. 

“We’re looking ahead to what the future holds,” Contadino said. “When do we get back to business as usual, or will it require a whole different approach as the new normal? We have some great ideas, and we hope that we’ll reach a point that it will be safe for our staff to return and our residents to directly interface with us. But it may not be for a while. Still, there are silver linings here, and have to look for them and recognize them.” 

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