Jennifer Gay, program coordinator of the Elder Club at Jewish Family Services of WNC, says that the small group of older adults is “really like a family. Everybody cares very deeply for one another.”
The group is geared towards older adults who are looking for an opportunity to socialize and who may have limited ability to get out on a regular basis. Individuals with physical and/or mild to moderate memory challenges are welcome. While the focus is on having a good time, Gay says the health benefits of socializing and having some fun with friends are significant. “For a lot of people who haven’t really challenged themselves in a social setting, or with their interpersonal skills in a long time,” says Gay, “I think it’s something that is really healthy and it can pretty much bring someone back to life.”
The group is a good fit for older individuals who don’t need skilled nursing but may have some limitations. “We are a really good in-between in that we can assist people who don’t need skilled nursing quite yet but are still in a vulnerable position and still need some socialization, need to connect with other individuals, need to get out of the house some,” says Gay.
A typical morning with the Elder Club starts with enjoying hot chocolate, tea and coffee while reading the morning news. After perusing the paper, the group is led in 30 minutes of light stretching and chair exercise — yoga and tai chi teachers sometimes lead classes. Afternoons are reserved for a wide range of activities and guest presentations that everyone can enjoy.
“Our main goal of that activity time is to really provide entertainment and not be throwing tons of information about medicare or those kinds of things. It’s really a time for the individuals to have fun,” says Gay. She makes an effort to be open to all kinds of programming that the club members are interested in — live music performances, bingo games and art projects are all popular picks. Preschool students at the Jewish Community Center visit the elders regularly to read books, sing songs and make crafts.
The Jewish Family Services of WNC also provides a kosher lunch, which Gay points out is not available anywhere else in the community. “Especially for our Jewish members,” says Gay, “to be able to maintain their kosher law and customs is really important.” It’s worth noting, she says, that the group is open to members of all faiths and the majority of the participants in the club aren’t Jewish.
The Elder Club can also be a huge help for caretakers and family members. “Even if it’s just three hours,” says Gay, “there are people who come to the group and the family members who have dropped them off haven’t had a day to themselves or an hour to themselves in over five years sometimes. It’s something that is starting to be recognized on a national level, but I’m really proud of Asheville in that we have resources to help caregivers and provide respite care to individuals that need it.”
The Elder Club has been active in Asheville for 14 years. The club moved to a new location on Doctors Park Suite 2E, 417 Biltmore Ave., in November. They meet every Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Transportation can be obtained through Mountain Mobility.
Elders and caretakers interested in learning more about the group can contact Gay directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 253-2900 ext. 12. Find more information about the club online at jfswnc.org/elder-day-club.