Maggie Larrow is no stranger to Zoom, the video-conferencing software that has skyrocketed in popularity thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Larrow and other seniors in Allegheny County have been using the technology to take online exercise classes offered by the Catholic Youth Association, which has senior citizen activities centers in West Deer and in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill and Lawrenceville neighborhoods.
“I really enjoy them,” said Larrow, 76, of West Deer.
Larrow is a member of West Deer Center in the Country, located at Nike Site Park on Route 910. It provides low-cost meals as well as numerous indoor and outdoor activities for seniors, such as SilverSneakers exercise programs, bingo and card games.
CYA works in conjunction with West Deer to operate the center, which has been closed since March because of the pandemic. Seniors are considered to be one of the most vulnerable populations to the coronavirus. CYA’s two other centers also are closed.
“The only thing we’re doing right now is our ‘Meals on Wheels’ program, which is still operating and hasn’t missed a beat,” said Gretchen Fay, CYA executive director. “That’s been going on since March 13, whenever we closed.”
Larrow said the Zoom exercise classes are nice because she doesn’t have to get ready to go out.
But it’s not the same as going to the center.
She would chat with other seniors before her SilverSneakers class. After, they would get together to have lunch. She doesn’t much care for bingo, but would stick around to play it anyway because she enjoyed the company.
“In person, you can have more conversation. During the (Zoom) meeting you can’t talk,” Larrow said. “It was just more camaraderie. It’s nice to get together with people.”
The Zoom exercise classes are being taught by Nancy Klinvex, who is based out of CYA’s Stephen Foster Community Center in Lawrenceville.
Klinvex teaches two classes. They take place on Mondays and Wednesdays. One is for more active seniors. The other is modified for seniors who can’t stand for long periods of time. Seniors who take the modified class use a chair for balance.
Klinvex has been teaching the classes for about two weeks. She does them from the Lawrenceville center or her Shaler home.
“I think most of them really like it,” Klinvex said.
Online class has its challenges
There have been some challenges. Seniors who don’t know how to use Zoom have been calling Klinvex on the phone during class to ask for help. Some exercises require use of a chair, but not every chair is the same because people are working out at home.
And Klinvex also isn’t able to move around as much as she would like to because she has to stay in front of the camera.
“We’re getting through it,” Klinvex said.
About five seniors from the West Deer center are involved in the Zoom exercise classes, Klinvex said. About 15 seniors in total attend the active class, and about eight in total attend the modified class.
Klinvex has been reaching out to members to spread word about the Zoom exercise classes, but she hasn’t been able to get a hold of everyone.
Another problem is the fact that not all seniors have internet access, Fay said.
“We’re really trying to get the seniors connected. Those who have a smartphone seem to be able to handle it a little bit easier,” Fay said. “Through Community College of Allegheny County, we were able to offer some classes on how to get connected to Zoom, how to log in, how to watch the classes — that kind of thing.”
Fay said the Zoom exercise classes are beneficial because it gives seniors the socialization they may be lacking due to coronavirus-related restrictions. Seniors at the West Deer center in particular are very active, Fay said. Being isolated could make them feel depressed and lonely.
“So many of them at West Deer are volunteers besides being members, and they really keep us afloat with their volunteer hours and their creativity,” Fay said. “They’re not doing their group exercises anymore, unless they can get onto Zoom. They’re missing out on all the group exercises, shooting pool, playing cornhole, playing bingo. Just having their coffee together in the morning.”
The classes are open to anyone. Seniors don’t have to be CYA members to join in.
Those who belong to SilverSneakers can provide their membership information. Those who aren’t SilverSneakers members are asked to make a small donation to CYA.
Klinvex said the classes will help seniors boost their immunity and get them back on track with their exercising.
“I just don’t want them to lose all that we’ve built up over the years,” Klinvex said. “Some people come in and they can hardly get out of a chair. And then after a couple weeks they’re just doing so much better. They can stand and sit with no problems.
“A little exercise goes a long way.”
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