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Glen Cove Senior Center prepares to reopen to members

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Local seniors will once again have a place to socialize with the anticipated reopening of the Glen Cove Senior Center on Monday. After a challenging year, the facility will welcome members on a limited basis.

The center initially reopened last October, but in mid-December, with Covid-19 case numbers rising and a holiday surge expected, Nassau County ordered it to close to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. It finally got the go-ahead to move forward with reopening late last month, and the staff has been busy contacting members and preparing the building. Because coronavirus protocols had been put in place for the October reopening, Executive Director Christine Rice said she expects this one to go smoothly.

“We did it successfully before,” she said, “and I think that we can do it again.”

The center will reopen at 40 percent capacity, which means that as many as 96 people can be in the building at a time. Temperatures will be checked, masks will be required and members must call ahead to register. They will be assigned tables, and fill out health screening forms. Rice explained that tables and chairs would be sanitized between uses and after meals, and every afternoon would be devoted to deep cleaning.

“When we reopened the last time, the members were really good about following the rules,” she said. “We really had no issues. I think that they were just so relieved to be back.”

Members will be able to take part in activities in person, though Rice said that programs would also be livestreamed to include those at home. There will be limited programs in the morning and afternoon, with lunch served at noon. The activities will vary from day to day, though Dancercise and tai chi will be offered three times the first week, and there will be daily Bingo.

“Each day is different,” Rice said. “We really try to continue and encourage exercise, because people are very stationary at this point. They’re not out walking, they’re not out doing what they would normally do, so we really try to give them more opportunities to exercise.”

Even when it was closed, the center was actively supporting its roughly 2,000 members with virtual programs, meal deliveries and outreach. “From day one, the staff was willing to do whatever needed to be in order to make sure the seniors were being taken care of during this time,” Rice said. “We were relieved that we had the ability to continue doing our jobs even when we were at home. We knew that things were still moving along, and that our members knew we were still there for them.”

Over the past year, the center’s staff has delivered more than 17,500 meals to local seniors. They are dropped off at their front door, and often include something extra, like masks, hand sanitizer, thoughtful notes and desserts. Site Manager Jacqueline Tecce and her assistant, Heidi Clines, prepared and organized the delivery of the meals, with the assistance of kitchen supervisor Martha Benitez, kitchen staff Cynthia Rivera and Sherry Walker, and bus driver Tilman Brown.

The staff also provided counseling, referrals, outreach, resources and other assistance to those who needed it. Social worker Sherri Meagher has counseled seniors dealing with isolation and physical limitations, offered resources and referrals to those in need and arranged for help with food shopping and finding affordable housing.

Another way the staff helped members stay connected was through Zoom calls held twice a week by Laurie Huenteo, which gave members a chance to check in, see familiar faces and feel less alone. “It’s comforting for the members to have that connection, so they can see their friends,” Rice said.

Of course, video calls haven’t satisfied the need to see people in person. “The majority of members are really looking forward to coming back,” Rice said, “and I think the vaccines have helped them feel comfortable about it.”

Mimi Simonetti, 94, the Bingo caller at the center, said she enjoys playing online Bingo, but added, “I’m looking forward to going back.”

Rice took over as director in October 2019, and the job has turned out to be much different than she expected. But it has been a learning experience, she said, and she is thankful for the support the center has received from the City of Glen Cove, Nassau County and community members.

“I believe we truly learned that there are so many other ways we can help seniors,” she said. “This center is one of the best, and I think that we’ve all learned you can help on so many different levels, and make sure people know that they’re not alone.

“It’s nice to do what we’ve been doing for them this year,” Rice added, “but I think everybody’s ready to get back to normal.”