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Seniors welcomed back to center

Austintown reopens facility with virus precautions

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne Russ, left, and Pam Clevenger, both Austintown residents and members of the township senior center, listen to the bingo caller as they fill out their bingo cards at the center’s reopening Monday morning. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, senior citizens in Austintown were able to socialize and participate in usual activities put on by the center.

AUSTINTOWN — After a year of being closed, the Austintown senior center is now open for business in a limited capacity.

Its reopening comes after township trustees gave the green light, provided that COVID-19 numbers continually decrease.

“The trustees said when the numbers go down, they would think about having us open. Until about mid-April, the building was used as a vaccination site by Mahoning County Public Health, but they moved to Dillards and we got the OK last Wednesday from the trustees to open up,” explained Jessica Ricker, marketing and technology director for the center.

At Monday’s opening, close to 30 Austintown seniors took to the center for socialization and to partake in various activities. With the re-opening, all of the activities offered are more individualized so people aren’t touching the same object multiple times.

“They’re pretty much the activities that don’t require something communal they touch,” Ricker said. “We had to take away some things like card games. We’re slowly going to re-enter those things in.”

Another off-limits activity are trips the seniors take. “We’re hoping as the summer and fall progresses we can add things like that back,” she said.

She’s happy to have the seniors back, but said doing so is a double-edged sword.

“I think we’re prepared to bring them in, but it’s a fine line,” Ricker said. “You want to protect them, but the longer they stay by themselves, the more their mental health declines. We had to manage how we could get them back safely for them to socialize so their mental health stays up.”

Ricker explained some of the members have lost their spouses and their children no longer live close, so the senior center is their only way to socialize.

“They were excited to come back,” she said.

In an effort to keep the seniors safe the center has set guidelines, as well as an overabundance of protocols to keep the center clean. Masks must be worn at all times and temperatures are checked as soon as the building is entered. The cleaning regimen is meticulous. Ricker said the building is fogged with disinfectant every morning, there are ozone generators running at night to kill anything harmful in the air, there are ultraviolet lights and an HVAC system to ensure air quality.

“We have a lot of security measures in place,” Ricker said.

Those security measures have given many of the seniors a sense of comfort when they walk into the building. Scott North, an Austintown resident and member of the senior center, said he has no concerns.

“Getting out of the house and seeing the old group again feels pretty good,” North said. “After a while, I wanted to come back. I always tried to find something else to do and break up the boredom.”

North added that the new changes are beneficial and, as an Army veteran, he has no concerns while at the center.

“We had a motto in the Army that applies now — mind over matter, we didn’t mind so it didn’t matter,” North said.

Other members, Elaine Phelan, Carol Ricker, Charlene Lytell and Davene DeLong, also aren’t worried. The general consensus among the four is as long as everyone is careful and follows the rules, there aren’t really too many concerns.

“I’m back with my friends,” Carol Ricker said.

Russ and Pam Clevenger said they’re just happy to be back in the center. Pam said they “couldn’t wait to get back in,” and Russ said the center is “very well maintained and safe.”

“We have no concerns at all. We really looked forward to coming back and when the announcement was made, we called and said we would be there,” Pam Clevenger said.

The new hours of the senior center are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and each activity is limited and will be on a first call-in basis.

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