The Flower Mound Senior Center is uncommonly quiet, devoid of the lively sounds of diners chatting over lunch, music streaming from the room where a dance lesson is underway, and the steady murmur of folks clustered together to chat about this and that. In this facility, silence is not golden. You see, the center is closed due to COVID-19.
The senior center’s activities are part of the Seniors in Motion Program (SIM) of Flower Mound, an organization of citizens 50-plus years of age. It recognizes the value of seniors in the community and therefore provides the resources that contribute to their quality of life. Such activities foster a sense of community and fellowship.
SIM’s mission statement affirms its commitment to providing a safe and caring environment and a dedication to promoting the health and well-being of its members. However, officials had no choice but to close their doors indefinitely on March 13th.
This crisis completely impacted the entire program, one that had been active for 15 years. With one of the largest senior center memberships in the DFW metroplex, 2,500 seniors suddenly lost a place to spend their days.
Senior Center Manager Jaime Jaco-Cooper remained on-site, along with two full-time Program Coordinators, Jon Almeida and Nicole Brasher. A brainstorming meeting resulted in a decision to conduct their programs virtually.
“Our first challenge was the meal program,” Jaime said. “Tuesdays and Thursdays between noon and 1 p.m., members could get out of the house and dine with others.” An ah-ha moment gave rise to a drive-thru lunch program. Maintaining those same days and times as pre-pandemic lunches, SIM members can advance purchase a hot lunch packaged in to-go boxes for only $4. They simply drive through and pick them up. “The program has been hugely successful,” Jaime exclaimed. “We’ve doubled the volume from before — about 400 meals weekly. And we didn’t have any lapse in the lunch program. The building closed on a Friday, and we served the first drive-thru meals the following Tuesday!”
All the meals are provided by local restaurants, including Swirl Bakery, Mama’s Daughter’s Diner, Old Town Market, and Chasin’ Tail BBQ.
On the heels of their successful lunch program, this dynamic trio took the virtual senior center idea even further. Jaime sends out an email to members every day, offering them daily activities that are interesting, mentally stimulating, and just plain fun. Her daily emails have grown to 3,200 for every current and former member in their database.
“One of our biggest requests? Fitness classes,” Jaime said. “Our fitness instructors were happy to film exercise videos geared specifically for seniors. They are posted on our Facebook page. Members can choose an instructor and take the class virtually.”
Jaime herself gets into the act with her own videos, featuring everything from cooking and baking segments to line dancing.
The list of virtual fun doesn’t stop there. In December, Jaime started a craft kit program for members to craft a specifically designated item right along with her on video. Interactive videos include a live trivia challenge, zoom bingo, video day trips through museums like the Smithsonian or to cities around the world, and a virtual book club.
Never one to turn down a chance to celebrate, Jaime is known for her parties. The team decorates the parking lot for the lunch program, sometimes asking members to join in on the holiday spirit by decorating their cars.
“We’re offering them fun and stimulating daily activities to help them cope through this difficult time,” Jaime said. “And our seniors are really embracing this approach to staying connected.”
photo courtesy of the Flower Mound Senior Center