Hollywood Senior Center and The Oregonian’s Season of Sharing 2020

The Hollywood Senior Center is pleased to be a beneficiary of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Season of Sharing holiday fundraising campaign this year. The efforts we have made to continue and grow our programming is highlighted in a recent article.

Ron Thurston looked forward to his visits to the Hollywood Senior Center. He could be spotted at the facility at least five days a week, sometimes six.

Thurston, 73, a retired mechanical equipment salesman, enjoyed participating in activities and events at the center. Thurston developed a particular fondness for the exercise programs, which not only kept him in shape, but also gave him an opportunity to connect with others.

“Everyone greeted me warmly. I started attending a lot of classes,” Thurston said. “I considered it my second home.”

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation. The Hollywood Senior Center closed its doors and has not reopened.

Thurston found himself spending more time at home.

“The isolation factor is felt and it’s tough,” Thurston said. “I miss the community that I had at the center. You can’t get close to people like you used to, to laugh and just talk.”

Amber Kern-Johnson, executive director at the Hollywood Senior Center, is well aware of the impact the center’s programming has.

“We have shifted very quickly in continuing to provide services and actually expanding services during this time,” Kern-Johnson said. That includes shifting the center’s Neighborhood Gleaners senior nutrition program, which provides farmers market produce, from pickup to delivery.

The Hollywood Senior Center has helped individuals who are at least 50 since its founding in 1973 by members of the Jaycees service organization who had received a grant to open a drop-in space for older adults. The center is a beneficiary of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Season of Sharing holiday fundraising campaign this year.

>>To donate: Season of Sharing GoFundMe page

Kern-Johnson said the center has four full-time and four part-time employees. The backbone of the center’s operations is its 120 volunteers, the majority of whom are seniors.

The center has an annual budget of $900,000, funded through the federal and state governments, grants, fundraising, individual donations, pre-pandemic rental of the building for private events, a gift shop and a consignment store.

The center’s funding has allowed it to continue providing social, emotional, educational and recreational opportunities to the 3,100 seniors it serves annually.

Its exercise programs have gone virtual during the pandemic, and Kern-Johnson said the center sends out a monthly newsletter that includes instructions on accessing Zoom.

“We have, almost every day, different health and wellness classes. So that people can participate at home in a live format with a group,” Kern-Johnson said. “The instructor can watch and can provide support.”

Kern-Johnson made a point of using instructors who taught at the center before the pandemic to teach the virtual programs. She said clients feel more comfortable working with and listening to an instructor they have known, even in a virtual setting.

Jennifer Kain has been an instructor with the Hollywood Senior Center for the past eight years. She leads “Senior Yoga” and said she truly enjoys helping seniors learn more about taking care of their bodies and maintaining relationships.

“I feel like it’s an honor to teach older adults,” Kain said. “What’s happened is friends have recommended other friends and there’s this sense of camaraderie – they care about each other and there’s a real feeling of community in the class.”

It’s not the ideal scenario – not being able to hug or high-five each other – but it’s the best under the current circumstances.

“We acknowledge that this is good, but it sure is not like what we had,” Thurston said. “We understand that’s all we have and we make the best of it.”

Kern-Johnson said the classes not only encourage a healthy lifestyle and sense of community, but also help in keeping an eye on seniors during the pandemic.

Kern-Johnson said one instructor noticed that a regular participant suddenly started missing classes and contacted her to find out why. The participant needed a new cell phone and Kern-Johnson was able to get her one.

Zoom classes and virtual programs are the “new normal” for the Hollywood Senior Center. Kern-Johnson said when the pandemic does end, how the facility operates and serves its clients will be different and challenging. But Kern-Johnson said she, her staff and volunteers will be up to the task.

“We can still find ways to fulfill the mission and provide really critical support services,” Kern-Johnson said. “There are going to be more and more seniors who are going to be using technology for the first time. That’s an undertaking. It really requires a lot of patience and a lot of support to make that happen. The result is so rewarding to see someone who is able to now participate and engage and feel connected to the community. It’s worth it.”

What your donation can do:

$25: Provides weekly food and supply delivery to three seniors.

$50: Provides technology assistance, telephone reassurance and referral to keep seniors connected and safe.

$100: Provides a year of life enrichment and support through Hollywood Senior Center’s programming for a local senior.

— Geoffrey C. Arnold | @geoffreyCarnold

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