ike so many older adult centers in Oregon, Center 50+ has remained empty for the past five months due to restrictions on large gatherings.

Not only has it taken away an important social activity for hundreds of Salem-area older adults, but it’s meant a shift in the way administrators do business.

They’ve had to take a hard look at their strategic plan; the classes, activities and meals they planned; and re-examine how to raise enough funds to schedule any future activities, says Marilyn Daily, director of Center 50+, the city of Salem center for older adults.

“We’ve always tried to do things differently here,” she says, “be cutting edge. But we use a slower pace in the way we introduce change and move people forward in a consistently non-aggressive way. That was my flow, the whole course of my life.”

With the shutdown that occurred in March, her leadership skills were put to the test.

“We didn’t have time for slow change,” Daily says. “We had to do it fast. That’s a change for me. Then, to get a staff team working mostly virtually, moving things forward and learning new technology has been a challenge.”

Fortunately, they persevered and immediately found ways to work together and to meet the needs of not only those who regularly attend activities and meals at Center 50+, but any senior in the Salem area who might need their assistance.

First things first — reach out to as many people as they could, to check on them, let them know what was happening

Opposite page: It’s a “wrap” on the new Wellness on Wheels, which has already hit the streets of Salem, part of an outreach through Center 50+. and reassure them everything would be OK.

“We closed on a Friday, and by Monday we had moved Meals on Wheels to curbside pickup,” Daily says. “We also started doing our own emergency senior care boxes. Then, we moved as many things as possible to Facebook while we explored other technology options, such as Zoom.”

Before the pandemic, Center 50+ did not offer any online classes. After March 13, that all changed. Several instructors were willing to do Facebook Live classes, providing connection to more than 4,000 subscribers.

They also continued to print their monthly newsletter, which is inserted into Northwest50Plus. This four-page newsletter details happenings at the center, spotlights volunteers and share menus for Meals on Wheels.

Making those immediate phone calls to reassure local older adults were important, Daily says, to provide moral support but also to determine who really was in need.

The challenge of technology

While many of today’s older adults are much more comfortable with using technology, there are new ways of communicating that still needed to be learned.

For example, Daily says, many of those who visit the center are comfortable using their smart phones to text, check email and Facebook, and look at their bank accounts — what she calls “passive connections.” But they aren’t as comfortable commenting on Facebook posts, or using web apps to show their face during virtual meetings.

“That piece of connecting with your face on the screen and seeing other people, that live stuff, that’s where the discomfort is now,” she says. “All of sudden, to see their face on the screen, it’s intimidating and scary.”

One of the first online classes they offered was, ironically, how to do a class online. Daily says she employed a highly-skilled instructor but the class was, unfortunately, a bomb.

She laughs as she thinks about the feedback they received and how members of the class struggled with the camera, the microphone and who was actually live and who wasn’t.

Now that some time has passed, online instructors and their students have learned how to manage a virtual class. Daily says online acrylics classes are going very well. They also recently shared a TEDTalk and had a lively virtual discussion afterward.

Now that it appears social distancing and restrictions on large groups will continue into the fall, program managers are looking at scheduling some of their favorite activities for the fall, including Brain Camp and others.

“We will start rolling things out, now that we’ve worked out a few bugs,” she says. “We’re excited to be launching a few things.”

What’s new

Daily is most excited about the Wellness on Wheels mobile center that rolls out in mid-August with a full launch in early September. This van will be staffed and include activities, brain exercises and even some personal technology tutelage as they go out to visit Salem-area seniors at their homes.

Center 50+ will be partnering with Salem Health, United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley and Home Instead to offer this service.

“We feel this is a great addition to our services in the long term,” Daily says, “because it’s an additional outreach. We are not just about the seniors who can come here to the center, all seniors. We are a social gathering place, but there are a lot of people who weren’t coming, even before the pandemic, and we know we can do better. There is good that has come out of this, and one is to recognize that we can do things better and differently. We will do it one-on-one, that’s the only way.”

She’s always thinking about the people served by Center 50+ and how to ensure that no one gets left behind.

“How will we battle this pandemic for our seniors?” she asks. “We need to be better hand-holders, and better facilitators to assist that one person. We always felt that we were a ‘center without walls,’ and we strived for it. But at no other time did we actually test out that idea, and we know we can do better.”

She is encouraged by those who have been willing to volunteer, whether it’s making phone calls, delivering meals or sharing a talent.

“This idea that we can tuck a senior away and everyone just carries on doesn’t that that well with us,” she says. “Our seniors want to be important and relevant. I had 250 masks from someone who just wanted to five. Another person was making watercolor cards, and since we are going to start delivering birthday treats to people, she’s making all the birthday cards. She’s 93 and she does beautiful work. People just don’t want to be forgotten.”

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