Senior centers await governor approval to reopen Sept. 21

O’Neill Center holds outdoor, online classes while waiting

From left, Caroline Butler, Donnie Allen and Heather Custer line dance to “Rednecker” by Hardy, choreographed by Allen, Tuesday in the outdoor parking lot behind the O’Neill Center in Marietta. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Even with eyes on Sept. 21, feet are tapping and ready for the senior centers and adult day center to be open in Washington County.

“We submitted our guidelines and plan for review to the Ohio Department on Aging months ago and have received notice that it’s been approved by the epidemiologists at the state and the lawyers,” said Connie Huntsman, executive director of the O’Neill Center, but also the president of the Ohio Association of Senior Centers. “Now we’re just waiting on the governor to release his guidelines and health order, we’re waiting for him to approve it.”

If the plan gets the final approval from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, then both of the service centers in Marietta and Belpre, and the Adult Day Center in Marietta, are prepared to open their doors just over six months to the day that the coronavirus pandemic necessitated closure.

Doors were officially closed to all but staff on March 16.

If DeWine approves the plan, doors will reopen Sept. 21.

“That was a long six months, but I’m so proud of how our staff have pivoted our services,” said Huntsman. “They’ve already practiced getting temperature checks of everyone who does come in for social service appointments and masks are worn inside, sanitizing is going on, we’re ready.”

Huntsman said still on the “to be determined” list is capacity.

“We’re probably have to take reservations for all indoor classes,” she explained. “But we have all of the safeguards in place and are ready to begin seeing everyone again at both Marietta and Belpre centers.”

Also on the TBD list is testing requirements and group size limits indoors, she said.

And while the inside spaces at all three locations are not open yet to the public, the center spent the spring adding online classes and Zoom meetings to keep its members connected.

Then last week the Marietta location held its first outdoor class in the parking lot.

Tuesday repeated that line dance class, with Donnie Allen, founder and instructor for the Mid-Ohio Valley Line Dancers.

“I love dancing, today I’m doing two classes and then Thursday,” said Caroline Butler, a Marietta senior citizen, after getting some one-on-one instruction at the beginning of class with Allen.

“I dance because it’s not only exercise but because it’s mentally stimulating. The music and the steps change, so you pay attention and are learning.”

Butler said she started line dancing about four years ago and even practices at home, watching instructional videos between the times she attends other classes in Marietta that Allen holds throughout the week.

Allen also teaches in other locations including every Monday and Thursday at Rockstar Wellness on Second Street and in Parkersburg at the Dils Center on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tuesday morning’s class began each dance with step-by-step instruction, building memory and footwork until the whole routine was learned before ever turning on the music.

“That’s how I teach every dance,” said Allen. “You never tell anyone that a dance is fast, you say it’s peppy.”

And Tuesday, even an employee joined the fray to dance along, with an extra pep in her step by the end of the morning.

“I asked him for months, because I loved that song, if he would choreograph it,” said Heather Custer, activity assistant at the Marietta center. “This was definitely a workout.”

The center will continue building more offerings into its outdoor parking lot as Sept. 21 moves closer, all with an eye on reopening inside.

“We know we can do it,” said Huntsman. “Now please just keep those cases low in Washington County for us.”


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