‘Prime Time’ for services
Center works to meet needs of area seniors during pandemic
STEUBENVILLE — Judy Owings isn’t used to the Prime Time Center being so empty and so quiet.
The facilities at 300 Lovers Lane lack their usual hustle and bustle as the haven where more than 1,200 senior members benefit from socialization and services on Mondays through Fridays.
But COVID-19 precautions and restrictions put in place since mid-March have changed that scenario, at least for the interim, according to the director.
“We’re very busy still trying to provide the services and to be creative about meeting people’s needs,” Owings said Wednesday.
“And we will be back,” she vows, anticipating playing catch-up on some missed festivities.
“We had our St. Patrick’s Day party we had to cancel, and then we usually have something for Memorial Day, and we usually have the city’s Fourth of July function, so we’re going to probably have one big party to catch up,” she said of hopeful future celebratory plans.
The center strives for seniors to have socialization and interaction with their peers but that changed dramatically as of March 13.
“We decided we needed to shut down for a few days, which led to a few weeks, which led into a few months, and even though everyone understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, it’s been quite an adjustment,” Owings said. “It seems we just work so hard at trying to get people to feel interactive and then all of a sudden, there wasn’t anything.”
Enter virtual bingo as one proactive move, for example, to keep members engaged.
“As soon as we realized it was going to be longer than we thought, we started kind of networking with other senior centers and things throughout the state to get some creative ideas, and Michael Bozzelli came up with the conference call bingo, a way for people to talk and interact and do bingo,” she said.
Bozzelli is a volunteer who works at the center’s registration desk, explained Owens. “He’s been doing a lot of telephone interaction and checks with people and that sort of thing with some of the more vulnerable population.”
The virtual bingo has been a hit.
Commented Marge Bish, for example, in an e-mail to Owings: “Our first week of Virtual Bingo was so much fun. We received our cards from our friends at the Grab-n-Go Lunch pick-up at the Prime Time Center and called the phone number to connect with Michael and each other. Seven of us were on the air, on speaker phones, hearing each other and able to talk and laugh while we played bingo games called by Michael.”
Added Bish, “Our thanks to everyone — passing out cards, printing, etc., — but especially to Michael for taking the time to create the cards — 300 of them and each one different — and for setting this up and making it possible for us to enjoy playing together without risk.”
Starting in June, the center will offer three new programs for members to get connected and stay connected.
In the June newsletter, Owings announces the opportunities for conference call get-togethers: “Coffee or Tea with Ashley” on Mondays at 9 a.m., a time to socialize with Ashley Owings, health educator and Geri-Fit instructor, and other members; “What’s New Wednesdays” at 9 a.m., offering a chance to catch up on what’s new in everyone’s lives; and “Flashback Friday,” also at 9 a.m and an opportunity to share favorite flashback memories or listen to ones offered by others.
June also will bring outdoor exercise opportunities through Geri-Fit, with a limit of 12 participants.
All classes are scheduled to be outside in the walking track area so 6-foot social distancing can be observed. Participants will be required to call two days in advance to sign up for one of the three classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, each day beginning at 11 a.m.
To reserve a spot, call (740) 632-3506.
All classes will be 45 minutes to leave time for equipment cleaning. Everyone is asked to practice social distancing recommendations until further notice.
The center’s food program has changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“At first we had to stop the congregate meals alltogether and then when it was going to go on for a long time, we did put on an extra route of home-delivered meals,” Owings said. “Alltogether we probably have at least 650 to 700 home-delivered meals alone, but we added probably a good 100 additional to our home-delivered meal list.”
Owings said the center also has been able to do food pickups. “If they order at Kroger or something, we can pick it up for them and deliver it,” she said.
Several weeks ago, the center began “Grab-n-Go Lunches” available Monday through Friday at the center and also for distribution at First Westminster Presbyterian Church in Steubenville, at the Michael Myers Apartments in Toronto and the Four Seasons Ministry Center on state Route 213, Steubenville.
The center received a small grant for farmers market that will be used to provide fresh vegetables to those receiving home-delivered meals, according to Owings, who said the grant is limited to benefit those with lower income.
Come June 10, the center will host a community lab draw from 6 a.m. to noon. Participants are to remain in their vehicles. Registration papers will be handed out as patrons arrive. The forms are numbered. Ten people will be called in at a time for payment and lab draw.
So when will the Prime Time Center officially reopen?
“A lot of that depends on the regulation by the state health department and the governor himself,” Owings said, predicting senior centers will be among the last of public facilities to get the green light to open their doors again.
That’s because of the high-risk population it serves, and “they want to make sure it’s done in a safe fashion.”
Preparations toward that end are in progress.
“We’ve already gotten the acrylic panel for the registration desk to distance people,” Owings said, “and I’m sure at whatever point we open, if there hasn’t been a vaccine yet, people will have to wear masks and keep 6 feet apart, which means until there is a vaccine, we can’t have 150 people for lunch.”
Altering yet providing services has been a learn-as-you-go experience, according to Owings.
“We’re just doing what we can to make it work,” Owings said, noting members enjoy being at the center, being active and contributing.
Members of the garden group, for instance, were on the grounds Wednesday busy with courtyard clearing work.
And one member, Jim Deitt, feeds the birds daily, providing the food himself, Owings said. “We have the best fed birds in town. They just have their own way of staying in touch,” she said of some of the members.
“Whatever interaction that we can do, we’re working on getting some webinar-like support groups with the Zoom going in the near future also for those who aren’t limited in their use of technology,” Owings added.
“People really can’t wait until they can get back,” Owings said.
In the meantime, she urges in the newsletter the importance of reaching out to combat isolation.
“Remember to stay in touch with each other,” Owings urges in the newsletter. “Friendly phone calls do a lot to boost our spirits. You can write a short letter or poem about your quarantine experiences, and we can put them in the newsletter.”
The Prime Time Center is open to people 50 and older. The annual membership fee for Jefferson County residents is $25 a year unless they’re under 60. Then it’s $35. The membership fee is $35 as well for those who live outside the county.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)