Yoga. Zumba. Guitar lessons. Computer training. Meals.
If this sounds like an evening after class on a busy college campus, think again: It’s a typical day at the Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury’s community center on East Liberty Street, where older adults from 60 to 93 find that age is no barrier to new skills.
We dropped in on a guitar class in early August while budding musicians in their 60s, 70s and 80s strummed guitars, learned chords, and read sheet music—when just months before these same things were very challenging.
“Some of [the participants] were hesitant when they first started out,” said Mira LeVasseur, program coordinator for Bringing Resources to Action to Serve Seniors (BRASS). Now, she says, “They have a newfound sense of confidence because they realize they really can learn something new.” For participants with arthritis, she added, playing the guitar can provide some relief through exercising fingers.
“They are very interested and willing to learn,” said 77-year old Juan Marrero, class instructor. “Since the start I have told them: this is not easy; it’s fun, but it’s not easy,” Marrero said.
Marrero hopes that the beginner class will be able to learn Christmas songs by December. “That is our goal because…we are Puerto Ricans, and Christmas time in Puerto Rico is like a big party,” Marrero said.
“Everyone there sings, dances, and knows how to play the guitar,” he added.
Grant funding for the Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury’s programs serving older adults is made possible through the Connecticut Community Foundation’s East Hill Woods Fund. Established in November 2009 with the largest contribution ever received by the Foundation, the Fund now provides grants to nonprofits and municipalities serving older adults throughout the Foundation’s 21-town area.
The Fund was instrumental in the creation of Waterbury BRASS, a citywide collaboration bringing opportunities, programs and information to Waterbury residents ages 60 and over. The Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury is a key BRASS collaborator.
“We like to think of BRASS as a senior center without walls,” said LeVasseur. The programs and services reach older adults at nine locations throughout Waterbury.“Waterbury was really lacking in support for senior services before the Connecticut Community Foundation got involved,” she added. “Everyone had fragmented systems and many senior centers were struggling.”
Through BRASS, the Hispanic Coalition has also provided meals to older adults at the community center, but is facing many challenges due to state budget shortfalls.
“There have been reductions in senior nutrition services,” said LeVasseur. “This particular site receives no meals on Wednesdays any longer. If you imagine, it’s like sending a child to school and being told he or she can’t be fed that day.”
The Coalition is teaming with Brass City Harvest to find creative ways to provide nutrition to older adults who need it.
Indeed, the Coalition’s assistance and outreach to older adults are vital—sometimes in unexpected but profound ways. For example, one computer class participant reconnected with her family through Skype. Using skills learned at the center, the woman was able to video chat with relatives in Peru she had not seen in many years.
“It was a very emotional moment. It took several minutes before anyone could speak because the family was so caught up in their emotions,” said LeVasseur.
That’s music to our ears.