Lebanon’s Senior Center opens for limited in-person activities

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon Senior Center opened its doors with “welcome” arms on June 1 following new guidelines by the state.
The center had to shut down last year when the governor forced all such facilities to shutter its doors due to COVID, but the state recently placed senior centers under the “indoor entertainment establishment” sector, which provided more definitive rules on how they could operate.
“When COVID first hit, there wasn’t specific guidelines for senior centers,” said Kindra Oliver, transit and senior services director.

REBECCA WIRFS leads Karla Joy McMechan in a chair chi exercise at the Lebanon Senior Center.

The senior centers later got a little bit more definition, albeit vague: They didn’t fall under any particular sector, so they were to remain closed indefinitely, until things changed and continued to get better.
Only recently did Oregon Health Authority place senior centers under a sector that would allow the facilities to reopen and allow visitors based on the risk category their county is in.
“We were so excited,” Oliver said.
But locking people out of the facility didn’t stop staff from reaching out to their senior community.
“We’ve done a lot of different things during the shut down that were in phases,” said Rebecca Wirfs, activities coordinator. “The needs of people changed throughout the pandemic.”
It started with just the logistical issues: How were they going to get their groceries and prescriptions? Now it’s easy; just order your stuff from Walmart and they’ll deliver it to your car, Wirfs said.
Volunteers also helped coordinate ways for other businesses to serve the senior community, she added.
“There was a lot of creating things that didn’t exist before,” she said.
Then the second phase quickly moved in as staff realized they didn’t want seniors to feel alone, especially since they were the first population asked to quarantine, and many didn’t have the Internet, Wirfs said.
For those who did have online access, Wirfs started looking into how the center could move their programs to a virtual platform using Facebook, Zoom and YouTube. They also hosted drive-thru ice cream socials once a month.
“(We did) just anything we could do to keep seniors connected,” Oliver said. “Obviously, they’re feeling very isolated, having to quarantine for quite some time.”
Bingo has proven to be one of the more popular activities through the Senior Center on Zoom, which allowed staff to connect participants through a phone line if Internet was not an option.
Staff also did “door drops” of soups for seniors, pastries for veterans, and Thanksgiving meals for those who would accept them.
“(We were) reaching out to people just to remind them that people still care and they’re not forgotten,” Wirfs said.
Oliver recalled the tears she and her senior friends shared when she helped deliver pastries and meals this past year.
“It was so touching to see some of their responses because for them it was such a huge deal,” she said. “They were so thankful that we took our time to go seek them out because we knew that they couldn’t leave their homes.”
This year, Linn County Public Health asked the Senior Center to help get the senior population vaccinated, and center staff spent “countless hours” working on the phone to make that happen, Oliver said.
“It took an email, it took getting on a computer, and answering questions,” she said. “A lot of seniors don’t have smart phones or technology.”
They also integrated their transit services to help seniors get where they needed to go for their vaccines, Wirfs added.
As the Lebanon Senior Center goes forward, it will offer in-person, virtual, and hybrid activities, but Oliver expects hybrid classes will stay for some time.
“We haven’t talked about which classes are going to be hybrid, but we’re really going to try to incorporate that as we continue with our slow reopening and be able to add more in-person activities,” she said.
Computer use and in-person classes at the senior center require registration in order to keep visitor numbers within the state’s regulations.

McMechan talks about how much she enjoys the Lebanon Senior Center, while she harvests parsley from the garden.

On the first day of reopening, Karla Joy McMechan was there to take advantage of the book sales and do a little harvesting in the garden bed.
Pre-COVID, she enjoyed attending the Chair Chi exercise class and Friday movie get-togethers, and even found herself learning how to play the dulcimer. McMechan also liked going to group meetings for Book Lovers and Best Life Chat.
“The Best Life course was the best course,” she said.
It’s about figuring out how to lead your best life when one can no longer do all the things one used to do, she explained.
“I’ve been in different communities and senior centers,” McMechan said. “This Senior Center is special.”
A lot of that has to do with how it is operated and the creativity with which staff members do it, she said.
“It’s run with heart,” McMechan said. “It’s a very special place.