Middlesex County’s Only Accredited Senior Center to Begin Re-opening in July

OLD BRIDGE, NJ–The Silver Linings senior center, originally accredited in 2015, was successfully re-accredited by the National Institute of Senior Centers earlier this year.

This makes it the only facility in Middlesex County to earn this accreditation, as well as one of three in the state and one of 132 in the country.

But like most senior centers in New Jersey, Silver Linings has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were basically shut down since March of 2020,” Anahita Feltz, Manager of Silver Linings at Old Bridge, told New Brunswick Today. “Haven’t reopened our doors yet. Working on that. But we have started outdoor programming.”

The pandemic forced the staff at the center to focus on virtual programming since the center had to close its doors last year, but it was recently announced that Silver Linings at Old Bridge will be open for limited indoor programs and classes beginning July 6.

“We are excited to announce that we will be opening for indoor programs and classes, with pre-registration required,” reads the center’s website, which includes a link to the center’s 2021 July Reopening Guidelines.

“It has been a long 16 months but we are finally here with information on our July 6th reopening!… We cannot wait to have you back to the center. With your cooperation and understanding of our policies and procedures, we know that we will have a wonderful AND successful reopening!”

Silver Linings at Old Bridge Virtual Community was launched March 30, 2020, as part of a “Senior Center Without Walls” concept that has been nationally recognized.

This includes a very wide variety of Zoom-based programming. A mental health program was a new addition that will continue in-person once the Senior Center reopens.

Transition to online services was a major factor in the re-accreditation. Silver Linings was quick quick to establish a Facebook community, which now has over 300 members and provides 3-4 staff posts per day.

The reaction to the Facebook page has been extremely positive. “Just to give you an idea, in-person we typically had in the building, on a normal day, 150 people. And we have a membership of over 2,000,” Feltz said. They started that page two weeks after the pandemic began, so they’ve had the page for over a year now.

The state also provided flexibility for all existing grant money to be used for online programming, and additional grant money allowed for purchase of iPads, hotspots, and pre-programmed Amazon Alexa devices.

This allowed for participation in both Silver Linings programming and also telemedicine. Some Silver Linings programs have been added to Channel 15 broadcasts.

During the pandemic, Silver Linings social services continued via phone; they also continued offering transportation for critical medical needs and have been providing assistance to Meals on Wheels.

Staff members also assisted in help seniors obtain vaccine appointments. According to the state, 74% of older adults over the age of 65 have been vaccinated in Old Bridge.

Old Bridge’s vaccination program has been in conjunction with Hackensack Meridian Health. Despite multiple calls for help from county and state officials and being the third largest township in the county in terms of population, the county did not provide the Township with its own vaccination site.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Silver Lining Center’s has been discussed at the May 11 Old Bridge Council meeting.

Himanshu Shah, the Township’s Business Administrator, said that the Silver Linings Center is for the most vulnerable population during this pandemic, so he “wants to open once and for all” and not have a convoluted opening process that is stopped if a lot of cases break out at the center.

Since the summer is coming, he thinks that may they can do outdoor activities instead of coming indoors, which can help prevent the spread of the virus to this vulnerable population and ensure a safe reopening of the center.

The township has its own plans to reopen the center, but they are still waiting on additional information from the state in order to accomplish this, he said.

The outdoor classes they’ve done so far have been a hit. “People are excited to be back together, and it has been working out great so we’re lucky that the Township has multiple park facilities and things like that, that we can use at our disposal,” Feltz said.

Since the center falls somewhere in between an adult day care and a nursing home, Feltz explains that they cannot follow those guidelines and need more guidance from the state in terms of what to do next to reopen.

Under Feltz’ three years of leadership at the center, Shah has only ever gotten compliments on the center and hasn’t received any complaints. “The Mayor and I are very happy that we have Ana at our center,” Shah said.

Another person involved at the center is Matt Mercurio, Director of Parks & Recreation and Social Services.

“So basically the human services, or the services that we provide for them, that is all done through the Silver Linings Center,” Mercurio said. “That’s all obviously been handled throughout, Whether it be phone calls, emails, check-ins. Everything like that.”

He goes on to say that he and Feltz worked on creating programs for the seniors, forming relationships with the community and applying for grants that would allow them to expand upon their programming.

Even when the center does reopen, he sees the Facebook page still being an important aspect of pandemic life that stays with them.

A silver lining of the pandemic, Feltz said, is that we can now address social isolation because that was one of the biggest problems facing senior centers across the country.

Effective June 1, Old Bridge Township reopened its municipal offices to the public during normal business hours.

“We are pleased to announce the reopening of our doors after allowing only limited access to the public for over a year. While the Township was still conducting business as usual, it’s time to resume face-to-face interactions with our residents. Overall, the Township’s case numbers have declined and we are prepared to open safely,” stated Mayor Owen Henry in a press release.

The building and code department had been temporarily relocated to the Silver Linings Center during renovations.

Temperature checks will be administered when entering buildings. Although masks and social distancing are not required, they are recommended.

Local Editor at New Brunswick Today | hcafarella@nb.today

Haley is a contributor at New Brunswick Today and The Buttonwood Tree. She is a Rutgers University journalism graduate. She has also written for are The Trenton Monitor and Quo Vadis, the Middlesex County College student newspaper.