By Claire Aiello, Vice President, Marketing & Communications
As Huntsville grows, we all grow older. The Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center is here to keep people active and engaged. That’s been a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, because seniors are at higher risk to contract the virus, so the halls and activity rooms at the Center have been relatively quiet.
“Our clients miss us almost as much as we miss them,” said Tom Glynn, who has been Executive Director for 44 of the 46 years the Center has been providing services to those 60 and up in Madison County. “If the Governor opened senior centers tomorrow, we still wouldn’t open yet because the numbers don’t justify that. We’re here first and foremost to take care of our clients, their health and safety, and to keep them actively involved in living.”
This is the largest senior center in the state, with 42 staff members, most of whom work part time. Glynn said no employees have been cut.
On any given day when the Center is active and buzzing, 400 people visit to participate in different activities such as pickleball, music, pottery, textile weaving, and yoga, just to name a few. Volunteer staff began teaching some classes virtually in September, including painting and jewelry-making.
They’ve also been able to resume teaching Rock Steady Boxing online and then in person. Through this program, people with Parkinson’s disease enhance their daily quality of life and improve strength, speed, and flexibility. There are currently about 120 people in the program in Madison County. “I’ve seen people turn around and (mentally) come back,” said Glynn. “We were so thankful to bring this program back virtually – and subsequently live on September 8 – because it helps so many people.”
On September 8, the Center held its first in-person event since March: Tailgate Tuesday. Going forward, seniors can come by on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and park in every other parking space, and either sit in their cars or bring a chair and sit outside to visit with friends and enjoy an early lunch, socially distanced and wearing masks.
Tailgate Tuesday (Photos by Cathie Mayne)
Throughout the closure, the Center has continued Meals on Wheels, which serves meals to shut-ins throughout Huntsville every weekday. Some people pick up meals at the Center, which is located on Drake Avenue. However, most are delivered by a dedicated network of volunteers, and five other Nutrition Centers help with meal service throughout Madison County.
Meals on Wheels (Photos by Claire Aiello)
Adult daycare has had to be put on hold for now. This program provides care for people who are physically or mentally challenged and can’t be left at home alone during the day. About half of those in the adult daycare program are seniors, while the other half are people over 18 who need specialized care.
Recruiting workers? Tell them about the Senior Center
Glynn urges companies to mention the Senior Center when recruiting workers. When families were considering moving to Huntsville during the St. Louis BRAC process, he said about 300 people toured the Center to see what was available for their older parents. “There were some who had said they weren’t going to move to Alabama because of the stigma, but once they saw this place for their parents, they came. It was a tremendous draw,” said Glynn.
And, for companies who have workforce gaps, he has another idea. “We have so many people who are retired from NASA, government, industry, many of whom regret retiring. They miss the involvement, the challenges, and to some extent, the money. It would behoove those who are looking to expand their workforce to consider making some part-time jobs and finding experience that’s already right here.”
Like so many other nonprofits, the Senior Center has made major changes in operations and fundraising due to the pandemic. The Center hosted an online auction through the month of September and is also asking for donations through a GoFundMe link on its website.
There are many opportunities to stay active and volunteer, too. Meals on Wheels currently has 600 volunteers, and there are other ways to get plugged in through RSVP, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Visit seniorview.com to learn more and help support the Senior Center today.
(Photos by Claire Aiello)
This article appears in the October issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.