New class topics include Broadway dances, book reviews and technology
The Edward A. Myerberg Center, a program of CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., launched its virtual senior center last month.
The center, which caters to seniors, offers virtual classes on a variety of subjects, including history, technology and fitness. Participants can learn about the history of silent movies or about Persian Jews in Baltimore. They can also take more hands-on classes, such as a memoir writing workshop or a Pinterest projects class.
“Our organizing and decluttering classes are also a big hit, especially while people are stuck at home,” Center Director Nicole Barr said.
The center began offering virtual programs soon after its building closed in April. Their first online opportunities were for tech support and personal training, as the staff knew it would take time for employees, instructors and older adults to become accustomed to Zoom and virtual programs. This support was only natural for the Myerberg, as the center had introduced the area’s first Tech-Knowledge Hub in 2017 with a similar goal.
After their members became more comfortable and confident using technology in their daily life, software developer Deb Nusbaum helped Barr and her team develop a virtual senior center. This allowed the Myerberg to continue virtual opportunities while also generating income and providing more options for members.
“The new Virtual Center was the solution to the ongoing question: How are we going to sustain these programs?” Barr said.
The center created three monthly subscription plans with varying degrees of affordability. For $10 a month, a subscriber can access the Tuesday and Friday Bagel Boys programs and social programs, like Book Reviews with Autumn and Coffee Talk with Barb and Harriet. The middle-way plan costs $25. For $36 a month (the all-access subscription plan), a subscriber can attend unlimited art, humanities, technology and fitness programs. Barr noted that if someone attends three classes a week, that last plans costs $3 per class. All plans provide access to recorded classes, too, which makes them more convenient for people’s schedules.
The most popular programs are Virtual Bagel Boys, a weekly lecture series that meets Tuesdays and Fridays; Broadway Fridays with Ellen Katz; and Aerobics with Howard Silverstein. Attendance is between 50 to 100 participants, according to Barr.
Linda Finifter, 76, of Baltimore County, loves to watch the virtual classes with her husband. She enjoys the technology, exercising and shopping classes. Her husband enjoys the art classes the most.
“It’s really saved us during this time,” Finifter said. “The speakers are excellent, and also you just get to see people and catch up. And there’s different things every week. Every time I check in, there’s even more classes.”
Finifter said she misses eating out with her friends, but the Myerberg prevents her from sinking into depression.
“It has been so great,” she said. “It just finds ways to tie up my time and keep us occupied.”
For Harriet Udell, 77, of Quarry Lake, the classes have kept her so busy that she’s never bored.
“Before, I only really did aerobics at Myerberg, but since we’ve been stuck inside, I’ve taken advantage of Broadway dance, zumba, a drawing class,” she said. “I listen to Ellen Katz’s Broadway shows on Fridays, and I also do a lot of the tech classes. I really do like it. It keeps my mind going, keeps me moving, and it’s always something to look forward to.”
Some out-of-state participants are even getting involved through word of mouth. For example, one 90-year-old woman in California joined recently because her son lives in the Baltimore area and has known about the Myerberg for years. Another man in Scotland joined after he learned about it from his cousin who lives in Baltimore.
“Our older adult community needs us now more than ever because they are already at the highest risk for social isolation and loneliness. It is not just the risk of contracting COVID-19 that we are concerned about, but also the effects of loneliness and depression on their mental and physical health,” Barr noted. “Many older adults live alone or are caregivers themselves and depend on the support of our center and in-person programs.”
With Myerberg’s physical closure, more than 1,000 older adults were left with a gap in their schedule.
“The good news is that our rock star instructors have stuck with us through it all,” Barr said.
Indeed, perhaps what makes Myerberg so unique, beyond the creative and dynamic programs themselves, is a sentiment Udell expressed about the people.
“It’s special. It’s a great community there. The instructors are just so caring and inspirational,” Udell said. “I haven’t met a single person there who I haven’t cared about greatly.”