The doors of the North Royalton Senior Center – a once thriving community of daily activity for older adults – have been locked since mid-March and the many tables and chairs that once welcomed those looking for companionship during the day now sit empty. But that will change September 21 when senior centers across the state are permitted to reopen per announcement by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
The news brings an appreciative smile to Judy McLaughlin’s face. McLaughlin, who serves as director of the Office on Aging and Human Services, knows firsthand what the senior center means to local residents.
“We had activities Monday through Friday, a different activity and event every day of the week, and basically, everything just stopped,” McLaughlin said in a telephone interview last month. “We all thought this would be a couple of weeks, you know we’ll let things settle down a little and we’ll be back up and running soon, but things just came to an immediate halt. We locked the doors, posted signs and it all came to a close.”
Known as hubs of activity for older adults, senior centers offer daily events like health screenings, educational speakers, arts and crafts, opportunities for volunteerism and travel, low-impact exercise, movie showings and card playing. For many older adults, spending time at a senior center may be the only contact they have with others during the day. To help combat feelings of loneliness and uncertainty when COVID-19 forced the doors to close, McLaughlin set up things like well-check phone calls that checked in on older adults with a friendly phone call and personal visits to seniors’ front porches to drop off volunteer crafting supplies. Her office also handles important matters like assistance with medical paperwork, government programs, social services, disability programs, senior transportation to doctor appointments and grocery stores, and food assistance through its partnership with the North Royalton Food Pantry housed at Royal Redeemer Lutheran Church. She and others went into immediate action to still provide needed help.
But while the initial fear of the virus has calmed some, the loneliness has crept in.
“We have virtual programs, but it’s not the same as that human contact,” McLaughlin said. “As you age, you really need that. Even people who are married still miss seeing their friend groups and getting together to play cards. It’s all impacting them a lot. For me, I think the saddest thing is not being able to see their families or see them through glass windows or just by dropping groceries off on their front porches… it’s heartbreaking. You know many of our seniors don’t have technology like iPads or cell phones and if they do, they may not know how to use those for virtual calls.”
One thing that has helped local seniors is outdoor activity and visits. The Senior Center’s weekly outside low-impact exercise class is popular amongst older adults. It meets each Wednesday, weather-permitting, at 10 a.m. at the City Green Gazebo.
“It’s Bring Your Own Chair, keep six feet apart and masks are encouraged but not required because it is outdoors and that’s been deemed alright,” McLaughlin said. “More than anything, they get to see each other.”
The office is also partnering with Diplomat Healthcare for an upcoming outdoor car bingo game set for 10:30 a.m., Sept. 24, at the retirement community’s W. 130 Street location.
The North Royalton Office on Aging and Senior Center, housed within the Deaconess Center Perry Senior Apartments, can reopen September 21 and in the meantime, McLaughlin is waiting on reopening guidelines from the state, which will likely make requirements like distancing of furniture, hand sanitizing stations and frequent disinfecting.

Contributing Writer