Westbury Senior Center Weathers Pandemic

Throughout the past two years of the pandemic, the membership of the Westbury Senior Center have endured irrevocable loss and change, like many of their peers at dozens of senior centers across Long Island.

“The pandemic has poised us to grow,” said Paul Ragusa-Schweitzer, executive director for Senior Citizens of Westbury, Inc. “It has forced us to change and modernize; that is the silver lining of the pandemic.”

Sadly, the Westbury Senior Center lost approximately 11 of its members throughout the pandemic to virus-related complications.

“It’s been almost two years now; I came to the center in September 2020,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “At that time, there wasn’t much going on here at the center; we were mostly doing a lot of outreach services.”

Ragusa-Schweitzer said that the staff worked out of the center during that time doing a lot of outreach, checking on members, bringing personal protective equipment (PPE), bringing supplies and food to members, running errands for them, helping members to make personal and doctor appointments.

“The center still had to run; there are still operational tasks to be done,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “We run on a lot of different grants; the work that goes into keeping those grants had to keep going on.”

Capitol One Bank provided a small grant to train the center members and instructors how to do virtual programming.

“When I came onboard, I felt strongly that two things needed to happen,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “The first was to resume providing meals; we quickly started a grab-and-go lunch program to get the seniors out of the house a couple of times a week. The second thing was to get Zoom programs started. A lot of our members, as well as our instructors needs to learn how to do remote programming.”

The center did as many outdoor programs as it could, in addition to the online programs.
“Change is not something that comes easily,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “It was a rude awakening, but it was time for everyone to come into the 21st century.”
Seventy percent of the center members are now using Zoom regularly and have boosted their internet and email skills tremendously.
“It was a good thing; we are prepared to be fluid and flexible and deal with the changes as they come.”

The center did a soft re-opening in May 2021.
“We built back up to capacity throughout the fall,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “Unfortunately, with Omicron numbers on the rise, we had to close to members following our holiday party on Dec. 16, with a plan to re-open again (last week) on Jan. 18.”

“Seniors were hit especially hard with this pandemic; many of them are isolated to begin with,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “They come there because it’s the highlight of their social calendar. They come here to see their friends, they are taking classes and doing workshops; they are getting a nutritious meal.”

Club members love to play in-person games likes mahjong, canasta and bridge.
“Especially for people to don’t have family and friends nearby this is really the place that they come to bond and gather with people,” said Ragusa-Schweitzer. “It’s a difficult position to be in, making the decision about when we are open and when we are closing. I’ve taken a little bit of the flack, but ultimately it’s about their welfare.

Visit www.westburyseniorcenter.org to learn more about the Senior Citizens of Westbury, Inc.

Calendar of events are available on the county’s website (www.nassaucountyny.gov/4735/Senior-Center-Calendars) for the following senior centers:

• Bethpage Senior Community Center, 103 Grumman Rd. West
• Franklin Square Senior Community Service Center, 619 Fenworth Blvd.
• Glen Cove Senior Center, 130 Glen St.
• Great Neck Senior Community Service Center, 80 Grace Ave.
• Hempstead Senior Community Services, 40 Washington St.
• Herricks Senior Community Service Center, 999 Herricks Rd., New Hyde Park
• Hispanic Brotherhood, 59 Clinton Ave., Rockville Centre
• Long Beach Senior Community Service Center, 570 W Walnut St.
• New Horizon Senior Community Service Center, 1355 Noel Ave., Hewlett
• North Merrick Senior Center, 1260 Meadowbrook Rd.
• Oceanside Senior Community Service Center, 80 Anchor Ave.
• Port Washington Senior Community Service Center, 9 Carlton Ave.
• Wantagh Senior Community Service Center, 3606 Lufberry Ave.
• Westbury Senior Center, 360 Post Ave.

Christy Hinko
Christy Hinko is a managing editor at Anton Media Group. She is a New York Press Association (NYPA) and Press Club of Long Island (PCLI) award-winning writer and photographer.

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