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‘Virtual’ senior center allowed seniors to stay connected during pandemic in Old Bridge; Silver Linings recognized for social media efforts

OLD BRIDGE – A “virtual” senior center during the coronavirus pandemic enabled the township to stay connected to over 300 members of the Silver Linings at Old Bridge with daily posts, activities, and live classes.

“The concept of a ‘senior center without walls’ is new in the aging world,” Mayor Owen Henry said.

Anahita Feltz, manager at Silver Linings, and Matt Mercurio, director of parks and recreation and social services, came together to come up with the design process, concept and final product of the Silver Linings Virtual Community via Facebook at no cost to the township.

For their efforts, Silver Linings at Old Bridge was presented the Agency Showcase Award for its Social Media Campaign for the Silver Linings Virtual Community at the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association (NJRPA) Annual Awards Ceremony, which was held at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City in March.

The Agency Showcase Awards recognizes outstanding marketing campaigns and promotional materials which encourage participation in recreation activities.

“The goal … was to keep our members engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent social isolation during these uncertain times,” Henry said.

Feltz created graphics and posts, which were posted on a daily basis starting on March 30, 2020. Exercise videos were created by instructors and within a month of launching, classes were offered live via Zoom including bi-weekly meetings, Bingo, art classes and webinars.

Grants allowed for the purchase of iPads and hot spots for members who did not have internet access, which allowed them to view the page and participate.

The information regarding the virtual senior center was sent out via email to members posted on the township website. A welcome video was created with a hello from all the Silver Linings staff and the director of parks and recreation.

Members were also made aware of the page during wellness calls at the beginning of the pandemic in March/April 2020.

“Here in Old Bridge, our most at-risk and vulnerable residents were always first and foremost as we all navigated through the COVID pandemic,” Henry said. “[Feltz] is creative, compassionate, and contributed greatly to the well-being of our senior population.”

Silver Linings has over 1,500 registered members.

“While our center doors were physically closed during the pandemic, our services stayed in operation, albeit in a limited capacity,” Henry said. “Social services continued via phone and video conferencing. Assistance was provided to the Meals on Wheels program to deliver meals to members who became homebound due to COVID-19. Transportation services remained in place for dialysis patients and critical medical appointments.”

The New Jersey Recreation and Park Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting parks and recreation; enhancing the professional development of its members; advocating sound policy and stewardship related to parks, recreation, resource management, and leisure services; and increasing awareness of the value of play and preservation of the environment to interested citizens and the public.

The purpose of the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association’s Awards Program is to honor and identify dedicated leaders, employees, and volunteers in the field of Parks and Recreation, and to recognize the state’s outstanding Recreation and Park agencies for excellence in programming, publicity and facility design. The goal of the Awards Program is to focus state attention on the achievement of Park and Recreation agencies, to recognize the continuing efforts of staff and volunteers, and to acknowledge support extended by member agencies.

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