A local center for senior citizens has adapted to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic, offering the population most vulnerable to the disease a safe and fun respite from the isolation of COVID lockdowns.

The Cooperstown Senior Community Center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and offers a variety of activities for area seniors.

The center, housed in the parish hall at St. Mary’s Church at 31 Elm Street, is run by volunteer co-directors Carole and Mike LaChance.

 The center opened about two years ago, Carole said, and they were able to meet outside last summer after being closed for a couple of months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the Cooperstown Rotary Club got a grant to purchase three air filters for the center and it remained open through November. The center reopened in April, she said. Most of the people who attend the center’s programs are vaccinated, but the ones who are not wear masks, Carole said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control notes that the risk for severe illness from COVID “increases for people in their 50s and increases in 60s, 70s, and 80s,” and that “people 85 and older are the most likely to get very sick.”

Carole said she got the idea of starting the senior center after teaching aqua fit classes at the Clark Sports Center and attending knitting club meetings with older community members.

She said after taking some members of the knitting club home, she realized, “they would stay at home the rest of the week with no socialization. There was no place for seniors to gather in the village. Cooperstown is a village with an older population and this gives them a place to gather.”

Each day the center is open, seniors can meet from 12:55 to 1:10 p.m. for Tai Chi, and from 1:10 to 1:50 p.m. for low impact exercise taught by Carina Franck, who is a fitness instructor at Clark Sports Center and volunteers her time to teach the classes.

Local artist Bruce Goddard also volunteers his time and teaches painting and drawing on Tuesdays.

In addition to exercise classes and art classes, the center offers a place for seniors to come together and play games.

“Every week there’s a group of six to eight seniors who come and play pitch,” Carole said. Other seniors come and play Scrabble and cribbage, she said.

“It’s an opportunity for seniors to reconnect,” Carole said.

There is also a guest speaker each week who talks about a variety of topics.

“People have been very nice and have volunteered their time to come and speak to us,” Mike said. “We stay away from politics though.”

Thursday’s guest speaker was Tom Shiebar, senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, who talked about the museum’s new book “Picturing America’s Pastime: Historic Photography from the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives.”

He showed some of the pictures from the book and the stories behind the photo, including a June 14, 1920, photo of the St. Louis Giants, a Negro League team. He said while researching the photograph, he found that the African American photographer James E. Miller took the photo. He researched where Miller’s photography studio was and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum sits on the same spot as Miller’s photography studio, he said.

Upcoming speakers are: Bob Satriano from the federal Department of Homeland Security, who will talk about “A First Responder’s Perspective to 9/11” on Sept. 21; Francine Stayter, CCE Master Gardener, and Mary Ellen Crawford will talk about “Gifts from the Garden” on how to extend the life of a flower garden on Sept. 23; Jessica Holmes, CCE educator will explain how to put gardens to bed Sept. 28; and Ann Thayer will talk about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s on Sept. 30.

The group is open to seniors 55 and older living within a 10-mile radius of Cooperstown, Carole said.

“They have a lot of activities for us,” Sue Straub said. “It’s a wonderful place to come.”

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_VickyK on Twitter.

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