Nothing stops the party at this Brooklyn Senior Alliance Center! Seniors were up and moving for a Zumba class at 10:00am on a Tuesday in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn.

And that was just the start of their day. There was a list of things to keep them busy– busy moving; busy thinking; and busy having fun!

The adult center is just one of 18 in the network of Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA) Centers, serving more than 13,000 seniors across Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan. The JASA centers offer a wide array of services for seniors, including meals, housing, home care, and recreational programming like dance and art classes.

“We’ve adjusted to the times,” said Anna Bella, director of the Senior Alliance Center in Manhattan Beach. “It’s not just aerobics anymore. It’s dancing, it’s Zumba, its yoga, its meditation.” The center also hosts computer training programs for seniors, getting them equipped for the increasingly online world.

Seniors at the Senior Alliance Center in Manhattan Beach. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

The Senior Alliance Center has been open for in-person events since October 2021. In addition to in-person programming, JASA continues to offer virtual events like virtual city tours and virtual concerts.

Bella, who has been working with JASA for 23 years, says the organization made a swift adjustment to the pandemic, ensuring seniors maintained a community during the pandemic.

“We pretty quickly got ourselves oriented,” said Bella. “We started the Zoom classes right away.”

Anna Bella, Director of the Senior Alliance Center in Manhattan Beach. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Bella recalls frequent calls between employees and seniors during the pandemic to assist seniors with JASA’s Zoom programming. “We worked many more hours than we would if we were in person, and we’ve gotten very close with our seniors.”

But after being vaccinated and boosted, seniors were eager to return to the in-person programming and socialization opportunities the center provides. “They just want some regular every day, you know, connections with people, because how much can you sit on a computer all day?” said Bella.

“Instead of me watching TV all day long, I come here, I socialize,” said Gloria Granollers, who finds the center’s services helpful for their assistance in tasks like filling out paperwork.

The Senior Alliance Center is a major hub for JASA in Manhattan Beach. Bella estimates the center provides more than a hundred meals a day, where contribution is suggested but not required. The center also provides housing in the same building for 250 seniors.

“It’s also really nice, you know, especially if you live alone and spend half a day here, it’s a pleasure,” said Lyudmila Grinberg, a retired accountant who has been coming to the Senior Alliance center for 11 years: “It’s life here; we feel fulfilled”

Seniors at the Senior Alliance Center in Manhattan Beach. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

The majority of program participants are Eastern European, originating from Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. The center often hosts events that incorporate Eastern European culture and food: “We incorporate the language on a daily basis,” said Bella.

“When you see people are helping you, you want to give something back,” said Natalia Kardukova, who has volunteered for JASA for the past 9 years.

Next month, the center will hold a Memorial Day party, its first major event post-pandemic.

“Mentally, I think it’s a huge impact [on the seniors] with everything that we do here,” said Bella. “It’s a place where they can meet, make plans, and live.”

“It’s where I would like to see myself one day.”

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Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a Brooklyn-based writer and Journalism student at Baruch College.

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