HOWELL – After being forced to close for over 15 months, the Howell Senior Center has finally opened their doors to members.
March 16, 2020 was the day the center had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the center being a second home to many seniors in Howell, its closure caused them to be trapped in their homes with nowhere to go. Some even had no groceries.
On May 26, the staff and members of the center celebrated the first day opening, having about 50 members together socializing for the first time in over a year.
“We have been working out policies and procedures to open, and we were also waiting for our outdoor patio to be completed. Now that the weather has warmed up, it makes sense to be able to open so that some people can be inside, some can be outside,” Melanie Decker, Director of Senior Services, said.
Because the senior center falls under executive order 192, they still have restrictions to follow such as wearing masks and having capacity limits. Due to these restrictions, the staff had to break up the town in sections in order to control how many people come into the center at a time.
Although they officially opened on May 26, the week before they had opened for their Tangled Thread Club.
“When we opened for the first two weeks, it was just socializing. We continued to meet as a staff, and we continued to talk to the members and explained to them how this is going to be a fluid situation. What we may do for two weeks can change as we get more proficient and see what’s working. Things change,” Decker explained. “Starting next week, we’re having members call in if they want to visit instead of going by sections. Since we’re going to start some programs, like food shopping, going by sections in town won’t work. We’re just slowly trying to implement things and make changes of what makes sense until we can be fully up and running again.”
Before the pandemic, the center would hold about 75 to 120 seniors. At this time, they’re limited to about 50 seniors inside.
“We could have more people, but it’s been so long since we’ve been closed and there’s so many things we have to keep in mind and do, we don’t want to over extend ourselves,” Decker said.
Decker expressed how about 98 percent of the members that come in are vaccinated. You do not need to be vaccinated in order the visit the center nor do they ask whether you’re vaccinated or not.
“We know so many are vaccinated because they’re so excited that they told us. Or when we were scheduling vaccines, they were calling to be put on a list. So that’s how we know this information,” Decker said.
The day the center reopened, members and staff were overfilled with joy. Decker said how to many seniors, the center was a second home for them.
“When we opened, members and staff alike were in tears. When we were closed, their (seniors) physical health and mental health declined. A lot of people lived alone and they weren’t doing Facebook, Zoom or Facetime, so they were very isolated. This was their whole world. This is where they go to socialize and so much of their life consisted of coming to the senior center because of everything we offer,” Decker said. “So finally getting back, some of them were just crying because they were so happy to see us and be at the center because it is their home away from home, and to see each other and be able to talk to each other.”
“For us at the center, we’re so used to hearing all the noise of members talking and moving above us, having the main room upstairs. So, when we finally get to hear that noise again, it melted our hearts. There’s nothing like it. You don’t realize that you missed that stuff until it’s gone. Our smiles didn’t leave our faces the whole first week,” Decker said.
At this time, the senior center has planned out many events for the summer. Their goal is to slowly open things and see what works. Eventually hoping to go back to the way things were.
“The future is to get back to pre-covid. The up and running, fully functioning center. Eventually no masks, and have that hustle and bustle,” Decker said.
Anyone who is interested in joining the senior center or have questions about what services they offer can call 732-938-4500 ext. 2550.