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North Shore seniors adjusting to life at home

Services doing what they can to help older adults

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After the Glen Cove Senior Center closed and the Sea Cliff Mutual Concerns Committee’s biweekly senior luncheons were canceled, many older adults across the North Shore lost a precious food supply and the ability to socialize with friends.

Carol Waldman, former executive director of the city’s senior center, said many live alone, and isolation can result in depression.

“There’s a flow, and now that flow is broken,” said Jean Quartarolo, 90, of Glen Cove. “You just try to do what you can, but it’s just not the same as being with your friends.”

Quartarolo said she is fortunate because she lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Those who are alone, however, are not without help.

Senior center lends a hand

Christine Rice, the senior center’s executive director, said she and her staff reach out to members by phone daily to ensure their wellbeing. They are also holding the Adult Day Program by video-chat, she said, enabling members with physical or cognitive impairments to take part in chair yoga and dance from home.

Members understand they are most at risk of contracting coronavirus and potentially dying from it, and the center is working to ease their fears, Rice said.

“This generation really takes that seriously and worries about it,” she said. “We’re trying to reassure them on every level that this is not going to be forever, that we’ll all be together at the senior center again.”

Calls to the senior center are redirected to staff members’ personal phones, Rice said, so members can ask for help anytime. “On every level,” she said, “we’re trying to support them in every way we can.”

A Sea Cliff support system

Peggie Como, president of the Mutual Concerns Committee, said the group is acting to aid older adults in need. Before its luncheons were canceled, Jane McGilloway and Elizabeth Mitchell made sure participants had support from nearby family members or friends. Como added that the committee offers delivery of food from Village Hall’s pantry. She or another volunteer bring it to homes.

Como said she cannot know about every senior in need, and she cannot do all the work alone. The number of people willing to help has been a blessing, she said, although she is not surprised, given Sea Cliff residents’ penchant for volunteerism. Even people as young as 12, like her grandson, are pitching in.

“I have to depend on the whole village to call me and let me know,” Como said. “That’s what I’m depending on, and luckily it is a village of volunteers.”

McGilloway said she is confident Sea Cliff will persevere through this crisis. “This shows a very strong, self-sufficient community,” she said.  

Older adults making do

Barbara Lillis, 79, of Sea Cliff, said she has tried to make the best of the situation. She lives with her son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters, with whom she has played many board games since schools closed last week. Lillis said she is frightened for older adults who live alone, and she is thankful to have her family so close.

“Because I have my family around me, I feel pretty good,” she said. “I feel grateful that I’m here, and I know that they’re right there if I need them.”

Mimi Simonetti, 92, and Sally DiMiceli, 77, who live together in Glen Cove, said they are fortunate to have each other. The hardest part has been having to stay away from other people, DiMiceli said, even family members who bring food and other necessities. It is strange, she said, to wave to them from afar instead of embracing them.

Simonetti said they try to call their friends from the senior center as often as possible to check on them. But she and DiMiceli agreed that no phone call could match the experience of socializing in person.

Elected leaders helping

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said she has been working with County Executive Laura Curran to ensure people are doing what they can to stay healthy. She understands the crucial role that the Glen Cove Senior Center plays in ensuring older adults get their exercise and socialize, but closing it was a prudent measure.

The county has set up hotlines that people can call if they are concerned about their physical or mental health, DeRiggi-Whitton said. However, being outside and maintaining one’s relationships are good ways for all people, not just older adults, to get through this crisis.

“The mind and the body are connected,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “So, yes, be worried, and yes, stay apart, but still try to enjoy nature and call people on the phone and keep the contact going.”

Legislator Josh Lafazan, an Independent from Woodbury, posted a YouTube video asking for volunteers to shop for seniors who cannot leave their homes. The next day, many people responded.

Lafazan and his staff paired volunteers with older adults living in the same communities. “The volunteers are from high school students to people who are parents,” Lafazan said. “They are people that want to give back.”

Lafazan has more volunteers than older adults, and anyone who needs a volunteer shopper should call (516) 571-6218.   

Quartarolo advised people to keep their heads up through this crisis and power through it. “I’m 90 years old, so I’ve gone through a few things in life, and this, of course, was very unexpected,” she said. “It’s upsetting what’s going on. It’s depressing to see all these people are passing away, but it hasn’t shaken me to the core . . . I’m trying to take it in stride.”

Laura Lane contributed to this story.