The time is finally here, the Lewis County Senior Centers are having soft openings and they are inviting the communities in. Since the first COVID lockdown, the senior centers have been closed for the safety of the senior citizens. During the almost two years, there have been several variants, Delta hitting this Summer and being the most deadly.
Carol Brock, Vice Chair of the Lewis County Senior Board and the Board have been busy sanitizing, repairing and getting the centers open for all to enjoy. They had to perform a lot of work, Carol stated, "As you may know earlier this year the county suggested we do a complete evaluation of the condition of our centers and the recommendations of that report to re-open as safe as possible. AAA supplied the funding for those inspections and IPAC was secured to do those inspections and report. They proposed we do a complete cleaning, sanitizing with HVAC cleaning and upgrade filtration to open. Then the process to gain the bids and have those awarded was completed with the AAA awarding the bids. With them providing the funding it was required to go out for bids and done by a licensed contractor vs. in house due to the Federal funding and the responsibility. That has been just recently accomplished. There were other items that also needed to be managed, some repairs were needed at Toledo site, others at Twin Cities that had to be accomplished by the county according to our lease with them. These findings all happened after the general review and submission to AAA on their guidance."
Many are wondering when the centers will be open more regularly, Carol stated, "The current plan is January 3, 2022. We are requiring masks to be worn except when eating, just like restaurants require. This is for staff as well as visitors. It is a state requirement."
Also, the senior centers are known to have programs available for the seniors. Carol continued, "Our new staff members are full of ideas and we hope to implement new items as we proceed. They are looking forward to hearing from our visitors on what they would like to see too. We hope to also bring in more community with our activities and fundraisers. It will probably be a slow opening until we can get fully underway. Those are fluid as of today."
The senior centers have enrichment meals, the question is, will they be back once the centers are open. "We will have an enrichment lunch during the soft openings and regular nutrition lunches will begin in January," Carol said. "There was a survey put out in the emergency meals to see what folks need. Per the AAA we may, and I emphasize may, be able to do some delivery modifications while we are still in the emergency of COVID-19. ie, to-go-meals."
According to Carol, fundraising will also change. "In the past the program leaned heavily on the senior site groups to fundraise for each site and provide a stipend to the program to keep it up and running," she said. "I will not go into all the reasons and history on this, but before the sites closed we were discussing ending that requirement to allow the seniors not to feel they needed to do all this work and not really being able to enjoy the sites and activities due to that requirement. We are hoping that the seniors will continue to volunteer for the many activities and also bring in some new ones and also assist with the day to day. Volunteers are the backbone of the operation being successful. We have lots of opportunities for that in many areas and are looking to expand in other areas as we can. We just wanted to relieve them of that requirement and also help the program as a whole to succeed. We as an organization have that responsibility not just to AAA/OAA for the nutrition program but also for the program to succeed for the people, now and in the future. Things are always evolving and we need to evolve with them to exist."
Colonel Ron Averill explained why they have kept them closed, he stated, "I know that the restrictions for public gatherings, including restaurants, were dramatically reduced beginning in May 2021. Unfortunately, due to the long period of the building closures and their state of maintenance we were compelled to get a professional inspection to make sure we would not put our vulnerable population at undue risk. The result of the inspection by a firm that specializes in health risks, and the firm incidentally that helped our school districts prepare their buildings for school reopening, revealed serious health issues in virtually all our centers and particularly the HVAC systems. The cost to restore the buildings to low risk was prohibitive and it took us much longer than we anticipated to get funding for the restoration approved and to have the restoration completed. The work was just completed late last month."
The closures were not easy on the local seniors or the Lewis County Senior Board. Many were unhappy with the closures but they wanted to ensure our seniors were safe. Colonel Averill continued, "We on the LCS Board are devastated that opening has taken so long while our seniors see the buildings sitting empty and other establishments are opening. For insurance reasons, we had to take every measure necessary to ensure our vulnerable seniors would be safe in our buildings. We are now ready to return our centers to normal congregate meals and enrichment activities and our staff is dedicated to make that happen as quickly as possible. As you read in Carol's response, we will have new faces in most of the senior centers and we believe our seniors will bond with our new site leaders quickly as they are all dedicated to serving their needs."
Toledo Senior Center Meet and Greet will be December 16 and 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with enrichment lunch being served at 12:00 p.m.
Winlock Senior Center Meet and Greet, December 14 and 21 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with enrichment lunch being served at 12:00 p.m.
Both Winlock and Toledo have new site leaders, both will do an incredible job and both are either local to their communities. Please stop by the Meet and Greet, have lunch and introduce yourself to the new site leaders. If you have any ideas, I am sure they will have their ears open.