Area residents who are ready to gather for social activities following a difficult, stressful year brought on by COVID-19 are starting to sign up for in-person recreational classes and trips as programs resume at area parks and recreation departments.
Suzanne Montgomery, 80, of Woodstock, recently finished a basket-weaving class through Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation.
“I’ve taken a number of classes … basket classes frequently,” Montgomery said during a phone interview. “They’re wonderful because you don’t have to know anything and they help you make a perfect basket — they look so professional.”
Montgomery, a retired federal worker, said she takes classes through the department to learn or accomplish something.
“I’ve done a couple of small things like having your new cell phone … and I think they had one on Facebook and Twitter, and those were fun introductory things for those of us a little slow to pick them up.”
One class she especially enjoyed was Tai Chi.
“I loved the Tai Chi class, but unfortunately they can’t offer those until next year, which is a shame because we had a good group and really thought we were accomplishing something.”
In the past, the department has averaged about 300 to 400 seniors signing up for classes.
“I would guess we average about 100 classes a year, Teresa Funkhouser, the county’s senior program supervisor for the Parks and Recreation Department, states in an email. “Some of our classes — for example, the basket class, is offered 10 months out of the year and each month is a different basket that is weaved. Similar with the card-making and art classes. We also try to offer free informational workshops from scam information to trips people share.”
Funkhouser is hoping to restart the social group P.A.S.S. — People Actively Staying Social — again this year for area seniors. “This is a great social activity for people to get together and meet new people! We averaged 50 or more people each month since this got started.”
The group’s meetings include lectures, holiday parties, games, movies, and crafts.
Also back on Shenandoah County’s programs list this fall are bus trips.
“Each bus trip is different,” Funkhouser notes. “Some of the day trips will have lunch on their own or they can pack a lunch and some are included, like the Riverside theater trips, which include lunch and the show along with transportation. The overnight trips often include several meals and some gratuities. We will list all of this in the description of the trip so everyone knows how many meals are included, etc., and can be prepared. All overnight trips include lodging and if airfare is involved that is included as well.”
Toms Brook resident Sandra Rinker says she loves the guided tours. Her first trip was in 2004 when she went on an Alaskan cruise and since then she has taken day trips, two-day trips, and 10-day trips.
“I guess my favorite one of them all was a trip to Texas in 2019. That was just outstanding,” she said during a recent phone interview.
Rinker said all of the tours have guides who make the trips interesting.
“Like when we got into Texas or when we went out West to Yellowstone, there are guides that actually get on the bus every day with you and they talk about everything surrounding, you know, the area that we’re driving through and a lot of the history, which if I would get into my car and drive I would just be seeing, I wouldn’t be getting the history.”
Those on the tours, she said, are mostly seniors, and she feels the cost is reasonable.
The next tour she plans to take through the county department is a bus trip to Vermont.
“In Vermont, we’re going to go on a cruise to Lake Champlain; we’re going to visit the Von Trapp family inn, tour the New England Maple Museum, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, the Vermont Country Store,” she said.
Rinker shared a speech she made last year to the department’s Aging in Place Council in which she told members that these trips keep seniors involved, active and give them something to look forward to.
“The opportunities gives us all a chance to live it up, laugh it up and many times our side-splitting laughs is just “what” one may need to feel involved and happy. We return from these trips with memories of the places we have been, history we learned and new friends we have made, happy and yes, sometimes tired,” she told the council.
While the pandemic pushed many into isolation, Sarah Young, the Frederick County Parks and Recreation program supervisor, kept in touch with seniors who had been active in the county’s senior clubs and recreation programs.
“During COVID, I kept up a letter-writing chain with our senior clubs,” Young said during a phone interview. “We have two senior clubs and I took all the members from those as well as some of our regulars that go on our trips — it’s about 50 of them total — to keep in touch and just kind of let them know what was going on.”
She said it was a friendly letter sent out every couple of months to let them know what was going on with her personally and that recreation staff members were keeping busy working in the parks. She also included notes about her department’s post-pandemic plans.
Dolly Armentrout is president of the Gainesboro Senior Club, which is one of two seniors clubs sponsored by Parks and Recreation. The other club is in Stephens City.
“I have 31 members now, which is great,” Armentrout said. “When I first started, we only had 14. We have meetings once a month — well, of course, with COVID we had a whole year we didn’t have anything.”
“We’re hoping to be out in the community with events a lot more this year, but due to COVID-19 we were stuck like everybody in the house and we couldn’t do anything. It was very hard for everybody.”
The ages of members in her club, she said, range from 58 through 93.
“We have mostly meetings, and when we don’t have monthly meetings we take day trips. We have a lot of day trips planned for this fall,” she said.
“Last month, we had painting at Rose Hill Park … We had a meeting there and painted rocks and they were so beautiful. Some of them they took home and I think some of them were hid along the trail there.
“In June this year, we had a beautiful picnic in Clear Brook Park — both clubs… We had music, had plenty of games and we always have a door prize.”
Armentrout has been steadily active in the club since 2005 and said she has met a lot of new people and made friends through the club.
“Parks and rec, we have to thank them very much. They have done a lot for seniors and well, also the classes and the pools. I think they do a good job for the county, they do a good job,” she said.
The county’s first big event for seniors, Young said, was the senior picnic in June where they sang and had box lunches. About 30 people attended. The department provided masks if anyone wanted one and made hand sanitizer available.
“We still try to keep things safe for them, but most of ours have been vaccinated, I’m pretty sure,” she said of those participating in events. “We’re just trying to keep a safe environment for them, but also allow them to gather because it has been so tough for them, you know being cooped up.”
Another big social event planned for those 50 and older is the Big Band Pool Party Dance, which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 14 at Sherando Park.
“We hope we have a good crowd for this because we have such great performers coming,” Young said, adding that the Friendly City Dance Room performers from Harrisonburg will be doing dance demonstrations and performances. The 17-piece Yesterday Swing Orchestra will play music for dancers, the pool will be open and light refreshments are part of the $10 per person entry fee.
Frederick County is also resuming its 50-plus active adult day trips this fall. Among trips planned are the Maryland Christmas Show on Nov. 19 in Frederick, Maryland, and a day of shopping at the Boscov department store, also in Frederick, Maryland.
“Our little bus only has 20 seats, so early registration/pre-registration is required,” Young said.
“One of our most popular trips are mystery trips — we tell everybody to dress comfortably and bring money for lunch, and then we find something cool to do just for the day,” she added.
The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department is also planning its fall activities now. COVID-19, according to Robin Richardson, the department’s assistant director, “pretty much stopped our traditional way of programming. We had to find new, creative isolated activities that still challenged the participant.”
Right now, the only senior-focused activity underway is Mah Jongg.
“We do have a few classes planned, however, they have not been approved, finalized, so I cannot release them,” Richards wrote in an email.
She noted that before the pandemic, the department offered bus trips that included Nationals baseball games, Riverside theater, and Disney On Ice. “We are looking into bus companies so we can start our bus trips back up.”
Shannon Martin, the recreation program coordinator for Clarke County Parks & Recreation Department, said they are working on planning fall programs and will have them finalized soon.
“We plan to continue the programs we are currently offering and hope to add additional ones,” she states in an email.
As with other parks and recreation departments, the pandemic impacted Clarke County.
“We shifted some fitness classes to virtual as soon as the quarantine began,” Martin noted, adding that once restrictions started lifting, they began programming to the guidelines.
“COVID lessened the number of people that came out to programs and use facilities. The COVID guidelines lessened the variety of programs we could offer, but we worked with what we could to make as many opportunities as possible. We could only take a limited number in programs with social distancing/gathering size limitations.”
The department is not offering bus trips as it has in the past, but Martin wrote that they are working on them for the future.
Some of the classes now being offered that could be of interest to seniors, she said, include monthly quilting groups and classes in wreath-making, card-making and stamping classes as well as fitness classes, self-defense classes, and various hikes each month.
COVID-19 greatly impacted the City of Winchester’s recreation programming, according to Samantha Crisman, assistant director of Winchester Parks and Recreation.
“Due to a lack of space and the social distancing requirements, we cancelled many of our programs, but we are now slowly bringing programming back as restrictions have progressively lifted,” she wrote in an email.
She said the department is now offering water aerobics as well as yoga and pilates in August.
“We have done bus trips through an outside party in the past,” she noted. “We are planning a trip to a Nationals baseball game and information will be posted to our website soon!”
As with other parks and recreation departments in the area, the department’s activities and facilities are open to everyone, though those who live outside of the 22601 ZIP code will be charged a non-resident fee.