“I’m new to town.” “I recently lost my spouse.” “My kids have their own lives and are busy.” “I’m newly
retired.” These are all very common life changes that can easily lead to social isolation; however, senior
centers are working hard to provide social settings and support to help older adults stay connected.
While numerous studies have shown that the effects of social isolation can have negative impacts,
having a good support system, meaningful activities, and purpose can help older adults increase physical
and mental wellness.
Chelsea Senior Center serves older adults in surrounding communities and counties. Programs address multiple dimensions of wellness such as emotional, physical, social, and intellectual. Exercise and movement classes like yoga, line dancing, Zumba Gold, Movin’ and Groovin’ and Enhance Fitness increase core strength and balance. Members enjoy challenging games such as Mah Jongg, Bridge, Hand and Foot, Euchre, Pinochle, and other tile and card
games. They can express their artistic sides through completing stained glass projects, joining wood
carving, learning to paint, or quilting. There are also special classes that teach about fall prevention,
driving safety, elder abuse, and memory loss. The Chelsea Senior Center works with Washtenaw County and the Area Agency on Aging 1B to provide nutritious meals both onsite and delivered through the Senior Nutrition Program. Community members who are 60 and better are invited to take part in this program. It is a great way to eat right and enjoy great conversations.
Chelsea Community Senior Services (C2S2) provides services beyond the walls of the Chelsea Senior
Center. Older adults are connected to local services, vendors, and volunteers to help meet needs as they
age. Examples include Technology Support, Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program, AARP tax
preparation assistance, and referrals to vetted handymen, house cleaners, yard work and snow removal
providers, and a variety of other services.
In 2018, the Chelsea Senior Center received a grant through the Vital Seniors Initiative to explore ways
to meet rural transportation needs. Through creativity and trial and error, we worked with the Western
Washtenaw Area Value Express (W.A.V.E.) to purchase a bus and fund door-to-door services for older
adults. In 2020, we purchased a minivan to help meet needs that are beyond what W.A.V.E. can provide.
Access to transportation is a key piece to maintaining independence and reducing isolation in older
This past August, the Chelsea Senior Center kicked off its Connections Café, a Memory Café, to provide
an opportunity for individuals living with memory loss or brain changes and their care partners to
attend. At these events, the partners will connect with others in fun and meaningful ways and get to
relax and enjoy the moment together.
An often-overlooked way to reduce isolation is through volunteering. Volunteers help keep senior
centers running smoothly and most volunteers find that they get as much back in return. Several of our
volunteers report feeling “needed” and “having a purpose” and “keeps them from sitting at home all
day”. These feelings are important to reducing isolation in that having a schedule and a reason to leave
the house reduces the opportunity to remain homebound.
Many older adults experienced extreme isolation during the early days of COVID. During the lockdown
period, senior centers had the responsibility of thinking outside the box in order to meet needs during
this challenge. The Chelsea Senior Center enlisted staff and volunteers to make thousands of calls that
provided a lifeline to the most vulnerable.
We heard many of our volunteers ask “When can we come
back?” and tell us that the isolation was “worse than death”. Chelsea Senior Center is proud of our
efforts to provide outdoor games and exercise classes when all indoor gatherings were prohibited. We
set up canopies and purchased lawn chairs to be able to host brown back lunches so individuals could
gather safely outdoors. Several classes were created and/or moved to a Zoom format so people could
participate and see others. We strove to meet the needs of our community so older adults could not just
survive a pandemic, but could thrive.