By Sydni Williams
FRAMINGHAM – The Callahan Center and Framingham Public Library have been reaching out and working with seniors since late March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the City of Framingham.
The library and Callahan Center staff have been creating opportunities to keep seniors healthy, connected, and informed, said its directors.
Newly-named Framingham Library Director Lena Kilburn told SOURCE that the library called all of its 7,500 senior patrons.
In addition, the Callahan Center reached out to 2,000 residents.
And Mark Goldman, who is chair of the Friends of Callahan, said the Friends contacted about 400 seniors.
Kilburn said the library wanted “to make sure they were ok, had what they needed in terms of food, medications, and support, and contact information should any needs arise.”
Today, August 21, is National Senior Citizen Day.
Most seniors responded they were handling the situation with help from their family, friends, and neighbors.
Grace O’Donnell, Director of the Callahan Center said that “about 5%… did have specific needs such as access to food, grocery delivery or needs for paper goods or cleaning supplies.”
To improve communication and connection, the Framingham Public library set up a resource page on their website called “Especially for Seniors.” This page includes information on COVID-19, support services, scams, face-coverings, and more.
The Callahan Courier newsletter, which is published monthly, served as a similar resource, with information on COVID-19 and the steps to stay safe.
In addition, the Callahan Center “worked with the Mayor’s office in sending out a postcard to all residents 55 and older to inform them of the city’s hotline for COVID-18 resources,” O’Donnell said.
For seniors “isolation and communication are two of the biggest problems and concerns” Goldman explained. To help, the library has developed virtual programs to keep seniors healthy and connected, while they are at home.
Kilburn said that there are “twice weekly gentle exercise sessions, several book groups, and Coffee Talk Tuesdays.”
At the same time, the public library also has collected masks in bookdrops and distributed them to the community and seniors “via curbside pickup, distribution events, and by delivery to senior centers,” Kilburn said.
The library has also begun delivering library materials to several senior living centers, such as Brookdale, Shillman House, and Carmel Terrace.
To ensure safety with this delivery system, the library worked with each senior center and Dr. Sam Wong, Director of Public Health. While they continue this contactless curbside system, they have also begun to allow patrons to use computers at the main library by appointment.
With all these efforts, Kilburn said “constant connection and outreach is key to keeping our seniors connected and engaged.”
At the Callahan Center, the social services staff respond to needs and concerns. They also have recruited volunteers to be phone buddies to those who need extra connection. Via Zoom, they are offering classes, group programs and cultural events, as well as volunteers to help seniors learn how to use zoom, “so they can take advantage of the various ways to connect with others, while keeping socially distant” O’Donnell explains.
The Callahan Center also has free, frozen meals from Daniel’s Table available for those in need.
O’Donnell said “for the most part, the older adult population has been very compliant with the advice to wear masks, stay 6’ apart, avoid large gatherings.”
During this time “some are making use of the many free options on Youtube, some are getting out into the fresh air, and some are making use of the zoom sessions we offer.”
Right now, with the heatwave, the Callahan Center is helping seniors to stay cool and O’Donnell said that “the main message I would like people to know is you don’t have to try to handle this all by yourself. Reach out and we will see what we can do to make the situation more manageable.”
Despite the current efforts, Goldman “feels more outreach is needed.”
For example, “a vast group of seniors do not have or know how to use today’s technology,” he said.
Goldman suggested disadvantaged seniors should receive Chromebooks to make information more readily available.
Kilburn echoed his sentiment.
“The Library is committed to continuing to innovate ways to serve our seniors by developing programming, working to safely get Library materials into their hands, and working with City departments like Parks and Recreation and the Callahan Center, and the Department of Public Health, as well as our Community Partners, to maximize our impact.”
As of August 10, the main Framingham Public Library’s computers can be reserved for short blocks of time. This is for only the Lexington Street library.
Sydni Williams is a SOURCE summer intern and a student At St. Mark’s in Southborough