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Fremont Friendship Center adapting to change
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Fremont Friendship Center adapting to change

June Hansen has been making the best of the situation.

With older people urged to stay home in the wake of the coronavirus, those like Hansen are striving to stay busy and positive.

On Tuesday morning, the Fremont woman adhered to her daily regimen which includes a walk outside in a quiet place.

“It makes me feel good about myself,” said Hansen, who believes when people feel good about themselves, they’re naturally healthier.

Hansen, who is 85 years old, is among local residents who frequented the Fremont Friendship Center.

The center temporarily closed earlier this month.

Since then, Friendship Center Manager Laurie Harms and her staff have worked to stay connected with the seniors and continuously look for creative ways to help them during a time when they’re facing seclusion.

Normally, the center averages between 40 and 46 attendees each weekday. It has long offered a lunch at a reduced cost and a variety of activities from musical entertainment to chair volleyball and even Tai Chi and line dancing classes.

The City of Fremont closed the center on March 9.

At first, Harms said she didn’t understand why the city closed the center so early. But as time progressed and the public learned more about COVID-19, she understood the city leaders’ actions.

“I really appreciate the city administration, Mayor Getzschman and (Fremont City Administrator) Brian Newton for caring enough about the seniors to close the center as early as they did,” Harms said.

After the center first closed, Harms and her staffers—Marv Steffensmeier, Norma Hagerty and Laura Ueberrhein and custodian Steve Snelling—thoroughly cleaned it.

“We didn’t miss a spot in this building, thinking we might be open in a couple of weeks,” Harms said.

When they realized the center would be closed longer, Harms and the staffers sought ways to reach out to the seniors.

“We’ve been making weekly phone calls and writing notes to them and sending them our calendar, just trying to keep them up to date with what’s going on, talking and listening to them about whatever they need to talk about,” she said.

On the calendar, Harms writes activity suggestions for each day. One day, she might encourage them to sit outside for 15 minutes or take a drive and sing out loud or to write a nice note to someone. She’s included papers with word search puzzles on them.

Harms and staffers tried using the Zoom teleconference with the seniors, but found that many have a desktop computer that may not have a microphone, camera or speakers—as opposed to an iPad or laptop.

And while some seniors use Facebook or do texting, most do not.

So the center returned to writing notes and making phone calls.

Now, Harms and the staffers are trying to determine how they could play a 15-minute game of bingo—over the phone—with about five center patrons at a time.

They’re still working on that idea.

“We’re just trying to be creative and think outside the box,” Harms said.

In the meantime, the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging has discontinued the Grab and Go meals, a program that had started March 24.

With this program, seniors could call an Omaha number and make a reservation and a driver would bring hot food to the center.

Seniors could drive by the center’s kitchen door.

“My staff would go out with a bag of food with gloves on, hand it to them and off they would go,” Harm said. “It’s a great program. I’m really sad that they’re not going to continue it.”

Harms learned Tuesday that the program has been stopped due to concerns about the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases—and in an effort to help protect seniors and staff.

She and her staffers keep working to encourage the seniors.

“As hard as it is for us not to have them here—how much harder is it for them to be stuck at home and not be able to go anywhere?” she said.

Seniors, like Hansen, are working to stay upbeat and maintain a daily routine.

“Every morning, I get up and I fix myself a good breakfast,” Hansen said.

She watches the news, but tries to avoid viewing the discouraging reports. Next, she drives to a place where she used to walk her little dog, Annie.

Hansen goes for a walk and then returns to her car.

She finds a pleasant place to park, drinks coffee and works crossword puzzles. She returns home to clean out closets and drawers.

“In the afternoon, I get out my sewing,” she said. “I have made two Quilts of Valor. I have sewn masks for the hospital and some masks that I sent to my children, just in case they have to be out and about where it’s not real safe. So I’m keeping busy.”

She’s cleaned up porch furniture, too. It’s on her porch where she sits and enjoys her neighborhood.

As part of her plan to stay healthy and happy, Hansen self-monitors her TV-viewing habits.

“I try not to watch too much of the bad stuff on television,” she said. “I also try not to watch TV shows that show nothing but violence and that sort of stuff. I watch the old family shows. Remove the bad stuff. Look at the good stuff.”

She takes care of herself.

“I’m a religious person, I guess, and I believe that God gave me this wonderful body and it’s my job to be the steward of taking care of it,” she said. “I’m obligated because I was given the talents I have, the good health I have and it’s my job to take care of it.”

Meanwhile, Harms and her crew look forward to the day when the center reopens.

“We cannot wait until we can open our doors and have them back and see them face to face and talk with them and get back to sharing life with them,” Harms said.

Anyone with ideas on how the center can connect and interact with seniors may send those thoughts via mail to: Fremont Friendship Center, 1730 W. 16th St., Fremont or call 402-727-2815.

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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