As we get older the need to feel part of a community and find hobbies becomes more important. Some seniors in Tempe have found this community at Cahill Senior Center.

“They provide us joy,” said Alicia Garcia a regular senior at the Cahill Center, after leaving a cooking class at the center.

Carol Quinn, the program coordinator at Cahill Senior Center, has been working with the seniors’ organizing classes and events that will help them have a healthier lifestyle and a sense of community.

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They have bingo nights, luncheons and classes that will help them stay healthy, including a Zumba class. A cooking class helps seniors avoid fast food restaurants by teaching them how to cook easy and quick healthy meals.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the whole world, but it specially put seniors at a great risk. The center closed for 15 months to ensure the safety of the entire community, which led them to move their classes and events to Zoom.

“The Zoom has allowed us to meet more people,” said Patricia Quinnett, a senior involved at the center. “Before we used to just talk with the people we already knew and being on zoom really opened the opportunity to get to know everyone.”

Other seniors also prefer to be at the comfort of their homes over a hybrid class because they can still be part of the community and the classes while being safe. This shift allowed many seniors to learn how to use Zoom opening a new door for them to communicate with their families and old friends.

Although the pandemic has brought the seniors new opportunities through social distancing and zoom classes, it also led to the cancelation to some programs.

The Inter-generational program was one of the programs that was cancelled and there are no plans to bring it back at this time, according to Quinn.

This program allowed seniors and preschoolers from the Head Start Program to get together once a month to interact by working on arts and crafts projects together, read books and make lunch together.

Anna Zavala, who has been at the center since before the pandemic, said that hanging out with the kids helped keep their minds sharp and teaches the kids not only to interact with their elders but to respect them.

“They helped us more than we could help them. It was really fun hanging out with the little ones and getting to know them while helping them with fun activities,” Zavala said.

For now, the seniors and the preschoolers are being kept apart since the kids are too young to get vaccinated.

Garcia said that the last time they meet with the kids to eat lunch they had the seniors’ lunches packaged because they wanted to protect them.

“They have as much fun as the kids,” Quinn said. “We hope we can bring the program back, but COVID changed everything, and we don’t know when things will go back to normal”

The Cahill Senior Center is located at the Westside Multi-Generational Center, 715 W 5 St, Tempe, Ariz. that is also home to the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley, Maricopa County Head Start and the Tempe Counseling Program.