Seniors Return For Cookies, Haikus and Conversation

DOROT senior center on the Upper West Side reopens for in-person programming

| 15 Jul 2022 | 10:34

After over two years of solely virtual programming, DOROT, a Jewish senior center dedicated to preventing social isolation through creating intergenerational relationships, reopened this Tuesday with their first onsite in-person event. This Summer Social was the first in a series of some 12 events planned for the summer.

The event took place from 2 – 4 p.m. and provided a chance for seniors to return to DOROT’s Upper West Side location, socialize, and learn about the summer offerings, said Amy Stein-Milford, DOROT’s director of onsite and special programs. “This is my first time meeting our constituents in person, and they’re the reason we do the work we do,” she said.

The event began with an introduction from Stein-Milford and DOROT Executive Director Mark Meridy. Afterwards, attendees were free to move around, converse and visit any of the five informational stations located around the room: intergenerational programs, technological information, resources, volunteer services, and onsite and special programs. At around 3 p.m., the social moved to the roof for drinks and cookies.

At the five tables located around the room, DOROT staff provided information on upcoming events and programs, as well as a few games. For example, the programs table invited people to write haikus about a summer memory, while volunteer services set up a cardmaking station.

Older Adults and Teenagers

At the intergenerational programs table, attendees could learn about the workshops it offers which reopened in-person around a month ago. Otherwise, they were encouraged to answer a prompt on a personal story, such as their favorite food or the worst advice they ever gave. The program fosters connections between older adults and teenagers, Stein-Milford said. “The young learn from the old, and the old learns from the young,” she said.

In planning the event, Stein-Milford took several precautions to make the event as safe as possible. She installed new filtration systems and limited the number of constituents to around 30 people, much less than the room’s usual capacity of 60. Attendees were also required to provide proof of vaccination and boosting against COVID and to wear a mask while indoors. “This is capacity, 30, which is not a big number, but it feels like a nice way to start,” Stein-Milford said.

The planning for the event started around two and a half months ago, when Stein-Milford joined DOROT. “One of the mandates when I was hired was to help them [DOROT] think about the reintroduction of on-site programming,” she said. “It’s something that we have wanted to do for a while.”

Members’ Survey

To gauge constituents’ comfortability with in-person events, Stein-Milford released a survey to DOROT’s several thousand members. Around 300 people responded, and their responses were used to design the upcoming series of events, Stein-Milford said. “We really thought about what’s going to make people safe, how we communicate what we’re doing, and how we do what we’re doing,” she said.

The upcoming series includes a variety of different events to test out what works and what could be improved, Stein-Milford said. There will be a storytelling workshop, an LGBTQ+ discussion group, art making activities, an exercise class and other activities. The series will culminate in September with a concert taking place both over Zoom and in-person, she said. “That’s the last of the summer programs, and it’s the start of a folk music series where we’re featuring different music from different cultures,” Stein-Milford said.

Returning to in-person programming was a breath of fresh air, Charles Sroufe said. Sroufe joined DOROT a few years before the pandemic, when he signed up to deliver holiday meals to the homebound elderly. “When everything went online, I tried to attend as many virtual workshops as possible, but I quickly got all Zoomed out,” he said. The in-person event gave Sroufe a chance to leave his house, make new connections and reconnect with old acquaintances.

While Viviane Topp, a member for eight years, was excited to see people, she is glad that DOROT will continue to offer virtual programming, as she feels that some activities are better done over Zoom. For example, getting a good seat for an art presentation is easier virtually, since the artwork in question is always right in front of you, Topp said. Presentations can also span the globe. “They took us to Phoenix, they took us San Francisco,” she said.

Restarting in-person programming was worth coming across town for, said Irene Weiser, who joined shortly before COVID. “I live on the East Side, so I had to take a taxi to get here, but it was worth it,” she said.

“This is my first time meeting our constituents in person, and they’re the reason we do the work we do.” Amy Stein-Milford, DOROT’s director of onsite and special programs