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‘We’re ready to come out and play’: Harford senior centers reopen on an appointment-only basis

Members of the senior center at the Veronica “Roni” Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston spent Monday afternoon socializing, exercising, playing ping-pong, basketball, pickleball and other activities. Many of them had not seen each other since that facility closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“We’re ready to come out and play,” Monkton resident Barbara Thompson said while talking with other members on the edge of the pickleball court.

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The senior center in Fallston, as well as others across Harford County that have been closed to members during the pandemic, opened Monday in accordance with an order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to reopen senior centers throughout the state.

Thompson, 72, noted that “it’s just nice to get out,” indicating one friend, who was playing pickleball, that she has not seen since last March.

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The facilities are reopening in phases; they currently are available from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and members must make an appointment to use them.

People should call their local centers — including the Edgewood Senior Activity Center (410-612-1622), the Havre de Grace Activity Center (410-939-5121), the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air (410-638-4040) and the Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston (410-638-3260) — to make an appointment and find out what activities are available.

Senior center activities and programs also are available on a limited basis at the Edgewood Recreation and Community Center (410-612-1606) and the Norrisville Library and Recreation Center (410-692-7820). More information about senior centers is online via the Harford County website.

County Executive Barry Glassman toured the Fallston center Monday afternoon. Members checked in by scanning identification cards on a computer kiosk and used a touchscreen to indicate which activities they planned to do.

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Glassman chatted with a number of members, such as Fallston resident Sharon Yohn and Baldwin resident Karen Sozio, who were playing ping-pong.

Yohn, 65, recalled the last day the Fallston facility was open — Friday, March 13, 2020. The retired State Highway Administration engineer, who is widowed, said she has spent her time staying in touch with friends and her siblings, as well as working around her house with activities such as mowing the grass or shoveling snow during the winter.

“If you have a house, you’re never bored,” she said.

Sozio, 70, noted that Yohn also kept in touch with her and other senior center members in their table tennis group by sending emails with jokes or photos, “just to kind of say ‘Hello,’ to everybody, which was really nice of you, Sharon,” she told her friend.

“It was nice to hear back from you guys,” Yohn replied.

Sozio is a retired auditor with the Defense Contract Audit Agency, of the U.S. Department of Defense. She and her husband, who uses the fitness center and enjoys games of pinochle at the Fallston center, kept active by walking and caring for a chocolate Labrador puppy.

“Every day, we would walk three miles in our neighborhood,” she said.

Pat Donohue, 71, of the Baldwin area, and a group of other men were hooping it up on the basketball court. The retired sales representative said he has been coming to the senior center for seven years and noted that “we were all despondent about” the year in which the facility was closed.

“Needless to say, we’re all happy to be back,” he said.

Donohue said he gets significant use out of the Fallston senior center, with activities such as basketball, yoga and other exercise classes. He lauded the benefits of visiting the facility, such as exercise, camaraderie and engaging in friendly competition with others.

“Mentally, physically, it’s the best thing we can do for guys our age,” he said.

The county executive noted that “everybody seems really happy to be out,” plus members told him about things they would like to see at the facility, such as lighting improvements and more space for pickleball.

“They’re not shy about telling me what needs to get done,” Glassman said, laughing.

He also is glad to be able to get out to see how county residents are doing, and he stressed the need for vaccinations against COVID-19. Glassman has been vaccinated, and he talked with members who have been fully vaccinated, such as ping-pong players Sozio and Yohn.

County recreation centers and schools have been reopening in recent months, although protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are in place at those facilities, as well as senior centers.

“It’s good just to get the county buildings back open and — although we have to be careful — some sense of normalcy,” Glassman said.

People must wear masks when in the senior centers, although they can remove it if they feel it would be unsafe to wear one during physical exercise, according to Karen Winkowski, administrator for the Harford County Office on Aging, which oversees senior centers.

Winkowski, who also visited the Fallston center on Monday, said similar policies on masking are in effect for recreation centers and recreation councils.

The Office on Aging, which provides multiple support services to people 55 and older, is assisting Harford County’s older adults with getting vaccines. Anybody who needs help scheduling an appointment can call the agency at 410-638-3025.

Membership at a Harford senior center is free of charge and available to anybody 55 and older, and members do not have to be residents of Harford County, according to Winkowski.

Senior centers are opening in phases, with mostly unstructured activities such as sports, fitness, even doing puzzles. Additional phases include lunch service and the return of structured classes.

“A lot of senior center activities are about camaraderie and shared interests,” Winkowski said.

About 150 classes were offered each year at the Fallston center prior to the pandemic, and officials must determine the level of demand and bring back instructors — who had been working on a contract basis — before offering a new slate of classes, according to Winkowski.

“We’re looking forward to getting back to classes, but right now I think people are finding things to do here and enjoying them,” she said.

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