First published in the May 13 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
COVID-19 is a perverse teacher, and one thing it has shown me is how important the South Pasadena Senior Center is to the community.
I spent a lot of time talking to seniors during the shutdown and afterward about how suddenly alone they felt when their regular visits to see friends at the senior center, located at 1102 Oxley St. next to the South Pasadena Public Library, ceased because of the pandemic.
Some people told me how sad they felt when family members had to drop groceries off at their door, and they could only wave to their children and grandchildren from the window.
The senior center might have been closed, but fortunately, its heart wasn’t. Center volunteers — some seniors themselves — made food and meal deliveries during the pandemic and staff members regularly made calls to check in on members.
Well, guess what?
I am happy to report that the senior center has been open for business for several weeks. To borrow from the movie “Field of Dreams”: If you open it, people will come.
While longtime director Liliana Torres has retired, there is a new team of Lucy Hakobian, community services deputy director, and Melissa Snyder, community service supervisor. The duo, along with dedicated staff and volunteers, recently rolled out the welcome mat at the center.
I met with both women the other day and their message is that they want people to return to renew friendships, make new ones, find old joys and discover new interests.
“We’re enhancing things and looking at what we might have been missing and where we can find opportunities to grow,” Hakobian said. “And while we want our seniors to return, we want to keep growing younger by attracting people over 55. We are the hub of our older adult community, and they can gain a lot if they come in.”
Members are eagerly awaiting Monday’s return of hot meal service at the center. Another longtime favorite, the “Senior Prom,” is scheduled for next Wednesday, featuring the music of Clarence Ulrich, who has sung with the classic rock group The Drifters.
“I missed a lot. My mother, who is 95, and I missed the nutrition part and the hot meals, which are coming back next week,” said Janet Sanderson, of Eagle Rock.
Sanderson said she likes the fitness program and the resource lectures on all sorts of practical topics, from taking care of parents to discussions on health. There are going to be an increased variety of classes to choose from, including a new approach to teaching watercolor, where people will be free to drop in, paint and just get together with other people.
“We are encouraging seniors to participate in programs,” Hakobian said. “It’s important to partake in anything where you can get out of the house and participate with others.”
And you don’t have to be retired. I know there are lots of people who are working from home and who might relish a chance to take a break and learn a new language. Snyder said that they haven’t seen normal — what’s that, anyway? — numbers yet, but they are now hosting Monday morning get-togethers just to get people back in the habit of coming to the center.
“You can come here, wear a mask, make some friends and get reacclimated to society,” Snyder said.
Center volunteers and officials are looking forward to the start of hot meals to lure back both familiar and new faces.
“It’s not only for the seniors, but for us, too. We want them back,” Snyder said. “This is their home. We want to reach out and make sure no one is left behind.”
I’m not into line dancing, but I’m told the energy level is high when people get together for that. If you would rather play cards or watch movies, that is there, too. There will even be chances to watch animated movies, an idea retrieved from the center’s suggestion box.
Hakobian and Snyder are also looking for volunteers to help lead the activities, and they are urging people to volunteer if they have the talents and time to help other people and also share their interests.
“Most older people live alone and it’s good for their brains to be with other people and to both learn and participate in things they like to do,” Havokian said.
Joining the senior center is easy. Come in, fill out a registration form, pay $25 and you are in.
One of the most convenient parts of the senior center is the Dial-A-Ride program, where members sign up for the service and can ride to a host of places in South Pasadena, including grocery and drug stores as well as banks.
During the shutdown, services were more limited, but now the rides have been expanded to some places where residents might want to go in the area. There are also plans bubbling for additional field trips to places of interest throughout the Los Angeles area.
Becky Quiroz, of Alhambra, said she loves the friends she meets during the three or four times a week she visits.
She said sometimes she’ll come early and just sit and crochet for hours until it’s time for a movie or an activity she wants to enjoy. She loves crafts and showed me the cute miniature bird houses she has made and the clay pots she has thrown, some of which adorn the reception desk with planted succulents.
“The senior center keeps us from going nuts by sitting at home,” said Quiroz, who used to work in retail. “Here, I can come and talk to people. Sometimes I bring food or I’ll crochet. There are always things to do and people to talk to.”
COVID-19 has taught us the importance of mental wellness. It’s interesting that two such valuable ways to improve the city’s mental wellness quotient are housed next to each other — the public library and the senior center.
It’s important to preserve and improve on the viability and growth of both resources. (Hint: Funding for the library is on the November ballot, as Measure L.) Additional support for the center comes from the Senior Citizens’ Foundation of South Pasadena. You might think of adding that to your donation list, too, as long as I’m spending your money.
And you might find that being a little older might not be such a bad thing if and when you visit the senior center to stretch those aching joints or learn a new language. And once your mind and/or body are stretched out, why not share a hot lunch with a friend — a new one or (I won’t say “old”) familiar face.
For additional information, contact the Senior Center at (626) 441-1007 or visit southpasadenaca.gov/government/departments/community-services/senior-services. You can also learn more about the foundation by visiting spsenior.org.