Even before our world turned upside down, staying healthy was a common topic on most seniors’ minds. During a time when nearly all of our longer-term sources of self-care such as gyms, yoga studios, health clinics, and public libraries are temporarily beyond our physical reach, it is vital to remember that our true friends at Northshore will be there for us again when the current crisis has broken and begun to recede.
Founded in 1972 and dedicated to helping seniors lead full, healthy, and inspired lives, Northshore Senior Center (NSC) offers a wide range of classes and programs to promote the emotional, social, and physical well-being of older adults at locations in Bothell, Kenmore, Mill Creek, and Kirkland.
As NSC’s Volunteer Coordinator, Foram Shah, explains, “One aspect of staying healthy is to stay busy; you feel better.” Toward that end, NSC offered Zumba classes, line dancing, ballroom dancing, and pickleball at its Bothell site, and plans to again as things reopen.
For other ways of keeping fit, the Health and Wellness Center, connected to NSC-Bothell by an accessible skybridge, provides services for visitors living with mental, social, or physical disabilities in the form of the Adult Day Health Program. The building also offers the Northshore Wranglers, volunteers who help support events at NSC.
In more ordinary times, as Ms. Shah points out, all four NSC sites are places where retirees can volunteer and mingle with others. “Plus, they can learn a new skill.”
As RSVP’s largest site partner, Northshore’s senior centers have been especially attractive to the readership of RSVP. When open, RSVP members volunteer at NSC-Bothell greeting visitors, in the coffee shop or bakery, or in the facility’s kitchen department.
“We are trying to go more virtual, helping seniors learn to use Zoom and join in online classes. We hope to make them feel more comfortable using computers.” ~Foram Shah, NSC Volunteer Coordinator
“Another new program from the Bothell center is a pantry program,” which, says Ms. Shah, as of late April was “offering free food. Now we are serving 80-90 people a day. The community comes in and donates food: restaurants, churches, just people. We offer the food in the Bothell parking lot for pickup and do some delivery. We are trying to make this virtual, too, including a day-to-day menu on Facebook, so people can see what food is available each day.”
For her part, to keep the centers going during the shutdown, Foram Shah is spending her time working at home to get organized and make any changes to programs that had been in the works. As she puts it, the stay-at-home order has given the NSC-Bothell staff “a chance to catch up when not caught up in the day to day and make the services more accessible to seniors.”
She is also working on a peer-to-peer fundraising program: “We are setting up a separate platform: We are asking the community to support us using social media by launching a text-to-donate fundraiser.” CEO Brooke Knight recently announced this is part of the fundraising campaign, the organization’s largest ever, “to raise the $500,000 we’ll need to keep us going over the next few months.”
Another project Shah has in hand is a plan for volunteers to participate in social service activities as phone buddies, which she described as being akin to Meals on Wheels. “Now we are trying to go more virtual, helping seniors learn to use Zoom and join in online classes. We hope to make them feel more comfortable using computers.”
At the time of our interview in mid-May, NSC had hosted a virtual fitness class. “There are also lots of volunteer instructors for crafts such as knitting,” Ms. Shah says. “The response to virtual services will depend on the response we get from our members and volunteers. Now, we are working on making any new apps as simple to use as possible. The feedback we get from seniors is that they will use all services that are easy to use, that require only a few steps to use.”
NSC enjoys “an incredible group of volunteers,” a total of around 600 among the three centers contributing to a wide variety of activities, including drivers helping people get to appointments. NSC offers several programs to support health. There’s an activities center and a fitness center, which I’ve participated in. It’s an amazing program, with state-of-the-art equipment. All the people working there are volunteers; all of them have backgrounds in fitness.”
“Now that I can’t go to the center, I miss all the friends I have there. It’s made me realize how much going there fulfilled me. In our country, our extended families are spread out over hundreds of miles, and we don’t see them very often. Senior centers are there to be our families when we can’t get to them.” ~Bruce Garberding, NSC Volunteer
For the time being, the centers have switched over to virtual exercise. “I know they’re offering yoga online, some regular exercise,” comments Bruce Garberding, a deeply involved, long-time volunteer at NSC. “At Kenmore, we had several walking groups, and a fitness group in a church; an armchair fitness.”
In his experience, “besides just the physical aspect, volunteering fosters emotional health, coming together with others. Many of our groups become very close knit. At Kenmore, I’m close with about 10 other volunteers. Since the COVID shutdown, we’ve been staying in touch, checking in by phone, exchanging group emails. It’s been important.”
“I have come to really appreciate the importance of these senior centers,” Bruce continues. “Growing up, I never saw myself as someone going to a senior center. I had this stereotype of people who would do that as being people without any friends. But that’s not true at all. Now that I can’t go to the center, I miss all the friends I have there. It’s made me realize how much going there fulfilled me. In our country, our extended families are spread out over hundreds of miles, and we don’t see them very often. Senior centers are there to be our families when we can’t get to them.”
Like most of us, he wonders “when all this is said and done, what the new normal will be? What is going to happen with handshakes and hugs?” Whatever the case, NSC plans on resuming all of its abundance of activities that bring people together as family; such activity and connection is much anticipated.
For more information or to get connected with NSC, please reach out to Megan Wildhood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786.