Senior centre navigating COVID-19 restriction

Merna Emara

It has been almost six months since the province of Ontario restricted indoor gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repercussions of this for the Fort Frances Senior Centre, also known as the Sister Kennedy Centre, meant that bingo nights, Thursday lunches and coffee hangouts were no longer possible.
Cindy Noble, president of the Sister Kennedy Centre, said they are still up in the air and do not fully know when they can resume their activities.
“We had a couple of meetings about what we can do and there was nothing that is allowed,” Noble said. “We have been talking to the health unit. We have been talking to other senior centres. They are not recommending the pool room. We can do some exercise classes, but doing all the cleaning that is required for a 45-minute session everyday does not seem feasible.”
However, some exercise sessions were moved to take place at the arena in order to avoid the extra costs associated with cleaning after each session.
Before the 35-year-old centre closed, it would see a daily average of 380 people come in to chat, play and exercise. To help serve and accommodate the seniors at any one time before COVID-19, an average of 20 volunteers used to dedicate their time and energy to keep up with the activities held there.
With no virtual activities being held, Nobel said she gets a lot of phone calls asking her if there is any word on when the centre will open again.
“I tell them I don’t know,” Noble said. “We are still checking it out. They are ready to go back anytime. They really miss it. I have heard from other people that someone has gone downhill with her mental health since COVID-19 because she is alone so much. She’s by herself and she’s staying in her apartment. Being away is affecting some of them very adversely.”
Noble said in order to alleviate the feeling of loneliness some seniors may be experiencing, she tries to call about a dozen people every week to chat with them.
Noble added that she would love the Sister Kennedy Centre to open up again, but she said this would be dangerous with the current COVID-19 numbers.
“I’m torn. I would love to open it up a couple of afternoons a week and maybe have a bingo, but you can’t have the coffee with that many people,” Noble said .
“It would be wonderful if COVID-19 miraculously disappeared, but I can’t see it happening in the foreseeable future. We would be lucky to open by next spring if it keeps on like this, which is going to be really hard.”
Noble said she encourages seniors who are feeling lonely to utilize the new friendly phone call program administered by the Seniors Companion Project and coordinated by Andrea Avis.
Noble said you can call her at 807-274-6743 if you need to talk to somebody or if you need to be referred to Avis.
“The most important thing is the safety of the people,” Noble said. “That’s what we are really concerned about. We are having another meeting on October 13. We will be discussing it again.”