The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. People were confined to their homes for weeks and months at a time, venturing out only for necessities. As the COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to help reduce infection rates, many cities and towns are lifting restrictions and finding ways to adopt a new version of normal.
As a community center, one of your goals is likely to find ways to make a meaningful difference. There’s probably never been a time when the need for organizations like yours has been greater. Whether it is programs that keep lonely older adults engaged or events that attract people of all ages, helping people find peace and purpose is essential.
How can you be a place where visitors find connections and meaning? What steps can you take to be an organization that helps people, especially seniors who have been mostly self-isolating over the last year?
We have some ideas we hope you will find useful.
Creating Opportunities for Meaningful Interaction
- Honor personal comfort levels: Some people might be comfortable attending events in person again, provided that CDC guidelines are honored. Others might still be hesitant, even if they’ve successfully completed their vaccines. As you are scheduling programs, consider streaming them for those who would like to participate from home. This allows people to choose whichever format they are comfortable with as the world returns to normal. It might take time before older adults and those with chronic health conditions feel confident that they can safely interact in public again.
- Ask for advice: Another suggestion is to survey your members to see what they are interested in. Many things have changed over the last year, and that includes what people find important. You might discover that visitors are more interested in art projects, known for their therapeutic value. It could also be that people are looking for more physical activities, such as dance classes, chair yoga, and resistance band exercises.
- Encourage connections to nature: As you are planning events and activities, consider those that allow participants to connect with nature. Gardening, bird watching, petting zoos, nature walks, and star gazing are a few to incorporate. Not only are they fun activities that can span generations, they are also ones that reduce stress and promote a sense of connectedness to the environment.
- Promote volunteerism: After a year of trying to keep at a distance from people, you might find renewed interest in volunteer programs. Consider exploring ways your community center can facilitate volunteer opportunities. It might be starting a food pantry that visitors and members help organize and implement or an afterschool latch-key program where seniors assist school children with homework. Your local United Way is a good resource for identifying both individual and group activities for volunteers.
- Identify member struggles: An unfortunate reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic caused hardships for many. Some said a final farewell to a loved one via telephone or video. Others lost jobs or had their income reduced. Anxiety and insomnia are both more prevalent. Research also shows that the depression rate in this country tripled during the pandemic crisis. Another way you can make a meaningful difference is by hosting support groups or counseling sessions. You could enlist the help of a local hospice or bereavement group. A less traditional but highly effective way to help reduce stress and anxiety is through adjunct therapies, like music, pets, and the arts.