San Diego nonprofit resumes older adult programming after pandemic hiatus

anlene
7 Min Read

In the sanctuary of a Del Cerro synagogue on Tuesday, more than a dozen older adults focused on mindfulness and balance during their weekly tai chi class.

Sitting in chairs, they followed as instructor Cassandra Wang led them through movements to gently lift the heels of their feet, relieve shoulder tension and rock their arms as if babies cradling.

In a nearby room, a group of seniors engaged in a hearty discussion of current events, covering everything from international politics and television news to sustainable agriculture and tennis during their hour together.

Both the tai chi lesson and current group events are important parts of programming provided by the Jewish Family Service of San Diego at the College Avenue Center, which resumed its in-person programming in February.

For three years, the older adult program — which is hosted at the Temple Emanu-El — has been on hiatus as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some programming was shifted to a virtual format during the early months of the pandemic, but as the rest of the world reopened, College Avenue Center participants yearned to once again meet in-person.

“As the pandemic changed, we heard daily from older adults about how much they missed the community connection at the center,” said Kristine Stensberg, JFS senior director of Aging Service.

a group watches an instructor demonstrating a tai chi move

Cassandra Wang, far left, demonstrates tai chi moves during a class at the College Avenue Center hosted by Jewish Family Service of San Diego at the Temple Emanu-El on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

(Lauren J. Mapp / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While every day of the week includes different educational or exercise sessions, it always starts with a “Cozy Coffee” and tea hour at 10 am and ends with a hot, healthy lunch planned by a dietitian that is served at 11:45 am

Throughout the week, clients can use the time between coffee and lunch to participate in trivia on Mondays, current events or tai chi on Tuesdays, a full body chair fitness class on Wednesdays and a music appreciation course on Fridays. Thursday sessions include rotating topics, but sometimes focus on cultural lessons such as how to prepare a traditional Passover dish or learning to better use technology.

College Avenue Center program coordinator Carmen Lomeli said the variety of classes, paired with socialization and nutrition, leads the center’s 128 members to actively participate in the program.

“I hear every day how they feel so happy to be here, happy to engage with their friends,” she said. “College Avenue Center is not only a safe space for people to come and have fun, be engaged, be active, but also to find us, to be a good resource for the community.”

San Carlos resident Maggie Pound, 77, has been a College Avenue Center member since 2019. As she lives alone, the program helps her to get out of the house.

“I don’t have any local family, so this became my family,” Pound said. “I always feel very welcome here, and it’s a real learning environment.”

Del Cerro resident Raquel Herrera is primarily drawn to the College Avenue Center and JFS at large through her passion for volunteer work, like her visits with an elderly woman who is home-bound.

While in-person services were not available during the pandemic, the 74-year-old said he was able to go out for walks around his neighborhood but the isolation was difficult. Herrera has enjoyed being able to once again get together with the friends he’s met through the current events group.

“I don’t watch the news because it’s horrendous, so when I come here, they give me something so I know a little bit about everything that’s going on,” she said. “It’s fun, too, to talk to people of my age.”

Participants who don’t have a way to get to and from the College Avenue Center can use the free JFS On the Go transportation program. Through the help of more than 300 volunteer drivers, seniors can schedule rides to doctor appointments, errands, social activities and more if they live within an eligible zip code.

On the Go was a vital service for College Avenue Center participant and downtown La Jolla resident Sharon, who asked to be identified only by her first name.

During the early days of the pandemic, the 77-year-old had just been diagnosed with cancer and required 30 days of hospital visits for radiation treatment. Through the transportation service, Sharon was able to make every appointment and is now in remission.

Because she doesn’t have a car, Sharon is picked up by a JFS volunteer about twice a week to travel to the College Avenue Center.

“Nourishment is so much more than food,” Sharon said. “I’m nourished emotionally, socially by coming here, secondary to the food. That’s what makes this so special.”

Although the College Avenue Center program is held in a synagogue, Jewish Family Service welcomes people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds. The only requirement is that clients are aged 60 or older.

To find out more about the College Avenue Center or to register for the program, visit jfssd.org/cac or call (858) 637-3270.

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