Elderday Adult Day Health Care, a program of local nonprofit Community Bridges, has for years aimed to empower seniors to live at home with independence and dignity.
But after Covid-19 hit and shelter-in-place orders went into effect, Elderday was forced to close. In the following weeks staff reached out to participants in any way they could: nurses made routine phone calls, activity packets were sent out and remote services put in place.
“What we do … our whole thing is about congregation,” said Elderday Program Director Lois Sones. “That’s the magic of the program—coming together. But our participants are the most vulnerable in the community [to Covid-19]. They are over 65 … they usually have a chronic condition. We had to stop on-site programming immediately.”
This prompted staff to start looking for ways to expand and adapt their usual classes and activities to an online format. Community Bridges Executive Director Raymon Cancino had the idea to coordinate with the city of Watsonville and the city of Santa Cruz’s parks and recreation departments to create a new digital senior center.
Senior Center Without Limits kicked off last week. Santa Cruz County residents are invited to participate in over 15 classes per week on Zoom, a video conferencing application. Classes include yoga, tai chi, art, music, meditation and more. Support groups and computer classes are also available, and Sones said they are developing ESL and citizenship classes as well.
“We’re trying to figure out how to provide people with as much mental, physical and social stimulation as possible,” she said.
Clara Muñoz, remote services coordinator for Elderday, said that developing the online center has been a major learning experience. Community Bridges worked closely with Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation, which had started its own digital program, to expand to Watsonville and hire more staff.
“We got started last week … seeing how we could make the classes available and getting the teachers used to working on Zoom,” Muñoz said. “It has been a big effort.”
To join Senior Center Without Limits, participants must have internet access and an internet-enabled device such as a computer, smartphone or tablet. Those who do not have a device may qualify to receive a free Amazon Fire tablet; applicants must be over the age of 60 and a low-income resident of Watsonville or Santa Cruz. Priority is given to those with disabilities.
Muñoz said that they were working with Nerd By Night, an IT firm based in Aptos, to set up the tablets to be as easily accessible as possible. Participants need only to turn on the device and open one of two applications.
“Some people are good with tech already,” she said, “but others need more help. We wanted to make it easy—one click, and you’re in the class.”
Seniors can visit communitybridges.org/SCWOL to apply for a device. Elderday is also accepting donations of tablets and cash to support the program.
“Isolation is a real problem for seniors, even before shelter-in-place,” Sones said. “What I hope is that this program will give them a sense of community and purpose.”
One woman, Muñoz said, has already become a regular of Senior Center Without Limits, attending every class that she can.
“It melts my heart to see her enjoying it,” she said. “It really shows how important that connection is.”