By Danielle Ray 

Council on Aging Director Judith Webster said she has settled in and remained busy since she took over her new role in November. 

“We are finding ways to cope with COVID and foster community with our seniors, but like everyone, we have a little bit of pandemic fatigue and hope spring will come early this year,” she said. “We are moving forward with new initiatives and connecting with our wonderful seniors.”

In February, Senior Center staff and volunteers helped to support the efforts of the Princeton Board of Health by reaching out to and scheduling seniors ages 75 and older to receive their COVID-19 vaccines at clinics held at the Council on Aging. 

Senior Center staff and volunteers have offered grab-and-go meals for the last six months or so that are prepared and distributed drive-through style on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. 

“We provide a nice meal and/or holiday-themed treat,” Webster said. “The recipe for January’s sausage and tortellini soup was requested so often we printed it in our newsletter.”

Webster said they are able to provide the meals thanks to a commercial kitchen, ServSafe-certified volunteer kitchen manager Fran Thomas, and “dedicated” volunteers who do the prep, cooking, assembly and distribution. 

“Although our conversations are brief, we get to connect directly with our seniors to exchange news and well wishes,” Webster said of the meals. 

Beginning in April, they will be offering grab-and-go craft kits with step-by-step directions posted on YouTube or a recorded Zoom. 

“All of these are free, and any senior can participate by calling the COA and asking to have their name added to the list,” Webster said. “We’re also publishing our newsletter every month at least until we are able to re-open. We have many seniors who don’t use computers or the internet, and we want to make sure they are getting information about vaccines, upcoming elections, our programs and health-related services.”

Webster said they are still providing weekly Meals on Wheels and connecting seniors to the SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) Medicare counselor as well as to tax prep and computer help. 

“This month we’re excited to be launching a new, Zoom-based mindfulness program, and hope many seniors will participate,” she said. “We are resuming some of our most popular exercise classes on Zoom with the expectation that they will move outdoors and to in-person participation in late April or May.”

Webster said the same goes for Book Club, Men’s Group, and Bridge, which have all remained active on Zoom throughout the pandemic. 

“We will look to the Board of Health for the okay to re-open,” Webster said. “I’m hoping that very small groups of fully vaccinated seniors may be able to meet inside for Book Club, the Men’s Group and other activities. The re-opening will be slow and safety driven for indoor activities, but we are in the midst of planning several outdoor activities. Who wouldn’t want to be outdoors in beautiful Princeton during the coming months anyway?”

Webster said staff are in the COA offices or picking up messages depending on the day, and as such seniors “should feel free to call.”

She said that taking over as director during a pandemic “has been a mixed blessing.”

“Every day I wish I could meet with seniors face-to-face and throw our doors wide open to them,” she said. “I’ve spent hours and hours on the phone and have gotten to know many people that way, but it just makes me want to put a face to each voice even more. 

“On the other hand, being closed has given me the opportunity to better understand our programming, systems, board, volunteers, fellow town employees etc. in greater detail and depth than if we were open,” Webster continued. “I’ve been able to do more strategic work and operational housekeeping than under more usual circumstances, which will position us to grow and leverage resources more efficiently when we re-open. But, of course, my biggest wish of all is to be able to welcome everyone to safely participate in a full range of activities onsite.”

For more information call 978-464-5977 and follow Princeton Council on Aging on Facebook.