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Loneliness in the pandemic: How Auburn seniors made it through a year of isolation
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Loneliness in the pandemic: How Auburn seniors made it through a year of isolation

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By the end of March 2020, the Auburn Senior Center, typically buzzing with Bingo and fellowship, drew quiet. With the doors shut, its members, complying with stay-at-home orders, grew isolated.

Auburn Senior Center participant plays the piano

An Auburn Senior Center participant plays the piano for the group of seniors gathered at the center on Friday, May 14.

The pandemic scared Queen Park, an Auburn Senior Center volunteer since 2002, she said.

“I cried a lot,” the 73-year-old said. “My grandchildren said, “Grandma, don’t cry. It will get better.’”

The center means a lot to Park, namely because she says the built-in community there makes her feel more connected to those in a similar position as herself.

Auburn Senior Center cultivates fellowship for participants

Senior citizens gather at the Auburn Senior Center on Friday, May 14 to socialize, play Bible trivia and share stories from the pandemic.

“I was so glad when Johnnie [Dowdell] said it was going to open back up,” she said of the center’s manager. “I just shouted, ‘Thank you, God!’ – It makes my heart so happy.”

The center launched a soft reopening on Wednesday, and administrators there say they are hopeful for a full reopening in the coming weeks.

The senior facility, housed in the Boykin Community Center, boasts a 98% vaccination rate, according to Lou Ella Foxx, Lee-Russell Council of Government’s nutrition and senior community service employment program coordinator.

Many seniors complied with the physical distancing and stay-at-home orders over the past year, even though it meant a surge in social insolation.

“Not being able to socialize for a year is not good for mental health,” Gloria Reese, 76, told the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday, the center’s first day back open with modifications.

Auburn Senior Center sign points to a new beginning

The Auburn Senior Center welcomed back seniors on Wednesday, May 12.

In memory of those lost either to natural causes or COVID-19, assistant center manager Nadine Payne lit a candle Wednesday, listing eight names one by one.

Robert Malgre, who celebrated his 76th birthday Friday, says he’s thankful to be back at the Auburn Senior Center, citing the want and need to socialize with others.

“It was a tough time to be away from everyone – my family, too,” Malgre said. “I missed everyone.”

I got vaccinated sticker on display at Auburn Senior Center

An Auburn Senior Center particpant wears his East Alabama Medical Center vaccination sticker on his cardigan on Friday, May 14.

Wyolene Welch, 92, played word games during the pandemic, to keep her mind “fresh,” she said.

Minnie Frazier, 81, and her daughter, Carrie Frazier, spent much of 2020 together. Carrie helps care for Minnie, and said she’s aware of the importance of daily contact.

“It was a sad time,” Carrie said, referring to quarantine during the pandemic. “The center is a place where you can come, mingle with people, play dominos, cards, have fun and do things you can’t normally do at home.”

Minnie, according to Carrie, would ask daily when the center was going to reopen.

Now that it is back open with modifications, Carrie says she’s happy to see her mother smile with her friends.

Barbara Sexton has been a loyal member of the center for four years. She’s grown close to the other seniors, she said, and missed them “dearly” while apart.

Site committee smiles ahead of Friday program

The site committee, which helps Auburn Senior Center leadership, poses before the day’s planned activities on Friday, May 14. From Left to Right: (Back row) Sharon White, Sandra Hall and Gloria Reese, and (Front row) Queen Park, Johnnie Dowdell, Barbara Sexton and Nadine Payne.

Jason Hollifield thanked “Al’s people,” referring to Boykin Community Center Community Services Director Al Davis, for all their “hard work” reopening the center, saying it is appreciated.

A committee of seven women put together an orange and yellow bulletin board full of memories of the seniors gathered together before the pandemic began. Smiling faces, hugs and group photos remind the group of what went on prior to COVID-19, Payne said.

Sandra Hall and her husband, a deacon, dressed up every Sunday morning for Zoom church, taking communion and singing along.

Many of your elderly loved ones might feel isolated and lonely during this time. Veuer’s Lenneia Batiste has tips on how to stay connected, while social distancing.

“It was hard being in the house,” Hall shared with the group. “Me and my husband have been married for 47 years – but we made it, though.”

A slew of amens rang through the building.

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