A year later, Trumbull senior center looks toward reopening

The Trumbull Senior Center men's club hold their first in person meeting in over a year, in Trumbull, Conn. May 25, 2021.

The Trumbull Senior Center men’s club hold their first in person meeting in over a year, in Trumbull, Conn. May 25, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — The Trumbull senior center was closed because of the pandemic so long that social services director Michele Jakab has to give her “Welcome to the neighborhood” speech to new neighbors twice.

“On the day we closed down for quarantine, March 16, 2020, people were moving into the house across the street, and by then we were empty because people didn’t feel safe coming out,” Jakab said Monday as the center prepared to resume in-person programs. “I told them things would pick up in a few weeks when things got back to normal. Now here we are, and they actually don’t live there anymore.”

The center is planning a staggered reopening, with exercise classes limited to 20 participants to start with. Masks and social distancing are required. The plan is to double capacity in July and eventually expand to 60 people per class if demand supports it, Jakab said.

“We’ll have strength training, tai chi, and there’s really been a big demand to get the zumba classes back up and running again,” she said.

When Trumbull seniors return to the center at Priscilla Place, things will be a little bit different then they remember. For starters, there will be no congregating. For at least the first few weeks, the center is discouraging people from gathering for conversation, and the couches and benches in the building have been replaced with chairs to help keep people socially distant.

The center’s chess players also will have to get used to slightly different protocols as the staff will institute a two-board policy.

“The players sit distanced, each with a board in front of them, and they each move the pieces for both sides on their own boards,” Jakab said.

The center’s cafe also is not reopening immediately, although grab-and-go meals will be available, and the staff is planning a series of tailgate parties for outdoor dining.

On the other hand, some of the COVID-19-related changes have proven to be popular and will remain, Jakab said.

“Zoom is here to stay,” she said. “That was one of the silver linings with the quarantine — we’ve really connected with people that we never had before.”

Jakab said it was gratifying to see Trumbull seniors logging in for fitness or online art classes who otherwise would not have been able to attend.

“Some of these people are full-time caregivers and wouldn’t be able to leave the house, but they can sign in from their living room,” she said. “Other members spend time in Florida; one person moved to Texas, but she still attends programs.”

In fact, the Zoom programs have proven to be so popular that the first group to return to the center in person was the Men’s Club. And their first meeting focused on learning the intricacies of Zoom and other online meeting software.

Another silver lining of the pandemic year was the community’s efforts to help meet the needs of Trumbull’s seniors even with the senior center closed.

“Anything we asked for, we got,” said Karen Seferi, who coordinates the center’s food pantry. “If we posted that we needed something, the next day someone came by to drop it off, or a delivery truck pulled up with it.”

In addition, residents, some of whom found themselves with more free time during the pandemic, stepped up their volunteering, Seferi said. People volunteered to drive the center’s meals on wheels vans and hand out food at curbside pickup time. And with some seniors in town living alone, volunteers also established a friendly phone call system where they called and simply spent some time talking to a homebound senior, she said.

“A Daisy Scout troop donated the proceeds from their cookie sales, a high school student donated gluten-free food. It was amazing,” she said. In addition, she said, a group of Chinese-Americans donated cases of masks and food.

“People built wheeled carts to help us get food out, people in town that have chickens began donating fresh eggs every week,” she said. “People found all kinds of ways to give.”

All of the combined efforts of everyone involved helped the center get ready to finally welcome members back into the building, Jakab said.

“It’s been so quiet, I can’t wait,” she said. “I just want to hug them all, but that’s still not allowed. We can fist-bump. I’ll fist-bump everyone as they come in.”