June 22, 2018

Sage Age Savvy: ­­­Senior Center Without Walls


Rich Gerston was close to a state of despair. Chronic back pain had reached the point where it was causing serious limitations to his social life. More and more he found himself primarily confined to his Joshua Tree home.

The 70-year-old retired teacher was feeling quite depressed and, wondering where to turn; he confided in his old friend, Topangan Lynn Dickhoff. She suggested he contact the folks at Senior Center Without Walls. Rich took her advice and soon discovered that, of all things, his phone could open up a whole new world for him.

The new world for Rich was the telephone community for California elders, Senior Center Without Walls. He was delighted to find a multitude of activities and classes only fingertips away, classes shared by others similarly confined, or lonely, or who were also yearning for somebody to talk to.

Rich found he could dial up discussion groups, poetry sessions, current events and short stories as well as bird watching, and Bingo — yes, even Bingo!

He could also select from a variety of health presentations of interest to seniors like emergency preparation, food safety and even laughter, to name a few.

Instructional information is available on topics including reverse mortgages, annuities fraud and visual efficiency.

Special events featured a variety of topics from armchair trips, interviews with authors, and information on such offbeat subjects as Chinese embroidery.

There were unique support classes for the blind and for those with low vision. A healing circle offered comfort to the ailing, and sessions on death and dying were also available for those whose lives were troubled or touched by these factors in some way.

Better yet, though Rich had been in retirement for several years, he now found a new home for his teaching skills by volunteering to become a facilitator for the Center.

Pursuing his multitude of interests, he taught four sessions on the life of naturalist John Muir, followed by conducting a course in creative writing where he was rewarded to hear from some of his students that their writing skills had come back to them.

Just for fun, he presented a trivia questionnaire program on the entire American continent. Of course, all of these topics were explored through the Senior Center Without Walls telephone conference call set-up.

Senior Center Without Walls was the brainchild of Terry Englehart, a Bay Area Gerontologist who functions today as the programs Director. Terry was looking for a way to offer activities, friendly conversation and phone groups to adults 60 and older who find it difficult to participate in activities in their own communities. With the help of an anonymous donor and a tip on “cheap conference calls” she managed to pull it together and in 2004 the Center was born.

According to Terry, there are no strict requirements for membership and you can join anytime. No special phone is needed. The number of people on the line at any one time is usually between 5 to 10, or maybe 12, including the facilitator, but sometimes there are even more, up to 24.

You don’t have to call in for your class every time and, if you do call in, you don’t have to participate; you can just listen in if that’s all you feel like doing.

Only first names are given during groups in order to protect privacy, although, according to Rich, folks can contact the center and make arrangements for phone/address exchange through the facilitator if they wish to and if both parties agree.

Senior Center Without Walls telephone conference programs are available every day of the week and weekends. They are free. All you have to do is register. Check them out at www.seniorcenterwithoutwalls.org or call (877) 797-7299.