PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Though senior centers may still be closed amid the pandemic, a new virtual community center is providing older Rhode Islanders with free training and activities to do online.
The Virtual Community Center was developed by Age-Friendly Rhode Island, the statewide coalition committed to healthy aging.
The center, launched in June, provides free fitness, wellness, cooking, and gardening activities, in addition to entertainment and games. Though they are online, there are also social events, trips, and tours.
Catherine Taylor, Executive Director at Age-Friendly Rhode Island, says the center is considered a public health response to the social isolation being experienced as a result of social distancing.
Taylor says Age-Friendly RI began developing the virtual resource in March after speaking with senior centers that had shut down, or couldn’t meet the programming needs of the community.
‘They were completely tied up with wellness checks and with getting emergency food delivered to all of the folks that would normally come into their centers for exercise classes or yoga classes, or tech help,” Taylor said.
Heidi Moon, 81, of Jamestown considers herself tech savvy and active.
When the pandemic hit, the Jamestown senior figured out ways to stay connected by getting her book and movie groups together on Zoom, or staying socially distant outside for lunches.
In a Zoom call with Eyewitness News, she says she hopes the virtual programming will catch on with folks her age.
“I’m waiting for the next thing. I’m already signed up,” Moon laughed.
In addition to free daily programs and activities, the Virtual Community Center offers free tutorials for online platforms like Zoom, Facebook, and FaceTime. Students at URI have also partnered to provide tech help sessions two days a week.
There are no eligibility requirements to use the Virtual Community Center, and programs are open to all at no cost.
Taylor says the center will also remain available even after the pandemic is over, for folks who were home bound prior.
“Even if you are recovering from a knee surgery or you have a cold and you don’t want to go out, even if it’s sleeting outside and you’re nervous about driving, or you’re scheduled too tightly and you want to fit a half hour exercise class into your day, the virtual community center is for you,” Taylor said.
Taylor noted Age-Friendly RI is aware the Virtual Community Center is still not available to all, but hopes that can change over time.
“A lot of advocacy needs to be done around ensuring that all older adults, no matter who they are, have access to affordable internet and devices, and people who will help on a regular basis with devices,” Taylor said.
The Virtual Community Center is managed by Age-Friendly Rhode Island, an initiative funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.