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Outlining recreation options for Shelter Island seniors: Seeking ways to break COVID-related isolation

While many residents are homebound to avoid contracting COVID-19, members of the town’s Recreation Committee haven’t been idle in exploring ways to get Islanders active and help them avoid depression that can come with loneliness.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who is the liaison between the Town Board and the Recreation Committee, said Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli spoke at a recent meeting about observations of the community she serves. Ms. Fanelli noted there are programs for elderly residents with some limitations and also those who are frail and have limited mobility and other medical issues.

In this day of COVID-19-imposed isolation in which seniors often suffer the most, Ms. Fanelli said she would like to encourage more interaction among seniors and the rest of the community.

For the elderly who are more mobile, Susan Binder runs “sit down classes” that have proved popular, Ms. Fanelli told the committee. (Contact Ms. Binder by emailing: [email protected].) But with the more frail, the pandemic has tended to prolong depression and can lead to degrees of dementia, she said.

Ms. Fanelli would like to see a “walking partners program” implemented to get seniors out of the house for fresh air and provide them with human interaction. Volunteers would have to be vetted to ensure there’s a healthy, trusting relationship established between each volunteer and senior, Ms. Fanelli said. She speculated that the relationship could grow into a regular “friendly visitation” that the Senior Center has long fostered.

Of course, cold, windy weather doesn’t lend itself to outdoor walks. But committee members suggested there could be flexibility on days and times and weather limitations.

When in-person walks aren’t possible, volunteers can establish relationships with seniors through phone conversations. Ms. Fanelli agreed this would be particularly important for seniors living alone whose family members are at a distance.

Besides the focus on helping seniors, the Recreation Committee discussed opportunities and needs regarding use of the FIT Center, changes at the Bowditch Road skate park and upgrades to the Youth Center housed in the American Legion Post building.

Use of the FIT Center has more than doubled with about 350 members since it reopened after the initial COVID surge. To promote social distancing and safety, only 25 to 30 people can use the facility in a day since not more than five people can be accommodated at any one time. Most choose early morning or evening hours. There’s a signup process that seems to be effective, according to committee member Emily Kraus. Masks are required and social distancing must be maintained. (Call 631-749-0978 or email [email protected] to sign up for a time.)

New signage, painting and possibly some repaving needs to take place at the skate park so it’s safe and there’s discussion of some new equipment to upgrade the park. Mr. Colligan offered to do research into the type and cost of equipment and to check out safety concerns.

Police Officer Anthony Rando said he and others in the department often get calls about chasing skateboarders from other areas around town because the youths don’t want to use the skate park the way it is.

The Youth Center has new windows and some walls have been removed so insulation can be installed. Mr. Colligan showed committee members pictures he has taken of the pickleball court/tennis court area that has been upgraded and has new signage. He said the courts are in very good shape.