About 16 years ago, Ben Hernandez first passed the Chilson on a day off from his mail route. He had heard about the snooker table in the center, which is used for a game similar to billiards. As he stopped to watch, he started a conversation with a group of regulars.
Some guys invited me to play. Pretty soon, every day off, every week, there I was, and I’ve been there ever since, he said.
Hernandez, now 71 and retired, cites the chance to shoot pool and have coffee among familiar faces in his therapy. He has volunteered in the center, cleaning tables and checking seniors at the reception.
The people are great, and they have become my friends, he said. That place means a lot to us.
But in the year since COVID-19 hit, the Chilson Senior Center has been closed to Hernandez and the rest of the public. The doors have remained closed even after other city facilities reopened, including the Chilson Recreation Center, which reopened in June.
LeAnn Williams, urban recreation manager, said the senior center has been kept closed for longer because it serves an audience especially vulnerable to the virus.
However, she and the city have good news for seniors looking to get out and get back involved with the center that will reopen on April 14 for the first time in a year.
These seniors who have been isolated for the past year and have now received the vaccine want to rejoin society, Williams said. They want to reconnect and see their friends, and that’s what they were here for.
Nearly three-quarters of all county residents aged 70 and older have been fully vaccinated, and nearly four-fifths of the same age bracket have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Williams said vaccination coverage was being considered when the city decided to reopen the center.
She said the opening will be handled in stages, with the first stage signaling the reopening of the billiard room, lobby and other areas of the center. Some personal and hybrid classes for seniors are being restarted at the Chilson Recreation Center, and Williams said seniors pickleball and bocce ball competitions are being hosted. Pickleball, senior volleyball and table tennis areas can also be reserved through the recreation center.
Williams said she has seen an increase in the number of calls and questions from curious older adults over the past month. Many have participated in activities at the recreation center, where two remaining full-time employees have also been transferred in the senior centers.
Employees have continued to send out newsletters and help with virtual classes in anticipation of the center’s reopening, she said.
They can’t wait to see the seniors, she said. We miss them.
Hernandez said some of his friends would likely have a hard time adjusting to the changes made by the center to comply with public health regulations. Their coffee machine was a victim. Masks are also required at all times and opening hours have been shortened.
But as long as there remains a trusted place to exchange stories and pool, Hernandez was confident that his friends would return.
That alone is enough, he said. They will be ecstatic when they find out this place is open again.
On reopening day, the center will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Williams said. The regular weekly schedule is from Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 1:30 pm.
Takeaway meals are offered on the day of reopening, and roadside meals are offered continuously on Mondays and Fridays by volunteers from America. Those interested in receiving a meal from the group should call 970-472-9630 on the business day prior to the service day no later than 1:30 PM.
Williams said those wanting more information on senior center programming can call at 970-962-2458 or email senior recreation coordinator Gina DeBell at [email protected]
More information will also be posted on the centers’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CityofLovelandChilsonCenter/.
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