Senior Center readies for re-opening – and they’ve got a survey

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 25, 2021

sebastopol area senior center

The Sebastopol Area Senior Center seeks survey input as it begins to develop reopening plans in March, 2021. (Photo Elizabeth Vanden Heuvel)

The Sebastopol Area Senior Center is developing reopening plans and seeks input in a survey due April 5 now that more seniors, staff and volunteers have gained protection from COVID-19 via Sonoma County’s massive vaccination effort, Executive Director Katie Davis said.

“We want, of course, to open tomorrow, but we can’t. We need to make sure it’s going to be the safest way to bring seniors back to the building, and of course, for our staff as well,” she said.

The director said over 100 responses arrived in the first three hours of posting the survey, which can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/D3WHNJZ.

The survey lists questions about participants’ comfort level returning in-person, conditions that would make them feel most comfortable, interest in hybrid or outdoor programs, internet access and how the pandemic has impacted them to identify possible support services, and more.

“It’s open to anyone. We want to hear from people who maybe wanted to come to the senior center and then the pandemic happened and they never had a chance to come here. We want members to take it, we want community members to take it because we really are a community agency,” she said.

Though membership is $50 a year, the Sebastopol Area Senior Center offers full and partial scholarships for both membership and its classes so anyone can participate regardless of their ability to pay, she said.

Services like haircuts and the highly sought-after senior foot care program could be available as soon as mid-May in a flexible timeline, Davis said. Hybrid programming will be important because some seniors faced challenges with transportation and finding parking in downtown Sebastopol before the pandemic, she said.

But first, the center and its partners enter a complex planning process developing safety measures and comparing reopening timelines.

This week, the Sebastopol Area Senior Center and other nonprofit senior centers are meeting with the Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging for support and possibly direction with safety protocols, she said.

“But just having a consistent approach for all of us to reopen so we’re not having to work in silos and work independently is going to be really important so all seniors across Sonoma County are getting the same access to services regardless of where you live,” Davis said.

In addition, the center and its partner providers are striking up conversations of when they will resume in-person services, like the memory care program provided by the Council on Aging Services for Seniors.

Davis said the Council on Aging Services for Seniors also provides the roughly 800 free meals a week that the center currently has delivered to seniors who for various reasons may not be able to get to the grocery store.

Meanwhile, the city of Sebastopol wants to support the center getting word out about the planning process through the city’s social media and emails, she said.

The Sebastopol Area Senior Center has muscled through by using some of its savings to operate after cancelled events and operational changes to its Legacy Store for thrift sewing and craft supplies dropped income by over $100,000, according to its March/April newsletter.

“We’re looking forward to reopening, but the truth is, it’s expensive to run these types of programs that are specialized and require staff and volunteer coordination. It’s not cheap to run these services and to maintain a 100 year-old building as well. So, we’re doing well, we’re doing fine, but we’re not out of the woods,” Davis said.

The network of nonprofits often focused on managing their individual funding and services has become more close-knit through the pandemic, according to Davis.

“There’s a lot of nice collaboration that’s coming out of it,” she said. “Instead of, like I said, doing it on your own and working really hard with minimal resources, it’s, ‘Well, how can we help each other?’ So, there’s really nice partnerships that are being formed where they weren’t really that well-formed before.”

Other thoughts on reopening

Senior center member Melanie Stephens has attended two weekly writing groups run through the center, over Zoom this past year, of course. She said getting to check in with others and share a passion for writing has been a “lifesaver.”

Stephens said she doesn’t feel especially at risk of COVID-19 if she returns in person eventually, but that she can imagine a slower process phasing people in since she thinks many feel anxious to protect themselves or people in their lives with additional health conditions.

“I really trust Katie,” Stephens said, nonetheless. “She wants people to feel safe and comfortable and she wants them to be safe and comfortable. So, I’m happy to give input, but I think so many people my age have gotten vaccinated and I think are feeling more relaxed that I think it’s worth giving it a try.”

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com